PM deflects 'blood on hands' jibe from Wilkie

THE hunt for the rogue Afghan soldier who mowed down five Australian soldiers, killing three, continued yesterday as Julia Gillard described as ''ugly language'' a comment by the independent MP Andrew Wilkie that she had ''blood on her hands'' over the deaths.

The Prime Minister and the Defence Chief, General David Hurley, cancelled plans and returned to Canberra yesterday for a special session of the National Security Committee of cabinet.

The Afghan sergeant who killed the three Australians in Oruzgan was named as Hekmatullah - many Afghans use only one name - and he came from the neighbouring province of Ghazni.

He had arrived in Oruzgan in mid-July after doing a five-month induction course in Kandahar.

The names of the trio he killed were withheld yesterday, as General Hurley said the families still wanted privacy. He did, however, release the identities of the two commandos killed on Thursday morning in the US helicopter crash in Helmand province.

They are Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald, 30, from Carnarvon in Western Australia, and Private Nathanael Galagher, 23, from Wee Waa in NSW.

Private Galagher was on his second tour of Afghanistan; Lance Corporal McDonald was on his sixth.

Yesterday, Ms Gillard and the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, received condolences from around the world, including from the Prince of Wales.

''My wife and I were utterly horrified to hear of the tragic deaths of five Australian soldiers in Afghanistan in the same day,'' he said in a message.

The deaths this week appear unlikely to sway political opinion on whether Australia should accelerate its withdrawal.

Some Labor backbenchers have long argued Australia should pull out sooner than presently planned, but those who support staying the course stood firm yesterday.

The former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon, now government whip, said Australia was pursuing the right strategy. ''Every one of these incidents causes me to rethink our strategy but every time I rethink it, I come out with the same conclusion, which is that we cannot allow everything we've done to be in vain.''

The Victorian MP Kelvin Thomson has previously called in Parliament for a withdrawal as soon as possible, and yesterday reiterated his view.

''While we are there, there is a prospect that Australian soldiers will be killed … and it's a reason for saying we should get out of there as soon as we possibly can,'' Mr Thomson said.

Mr Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst for the Office of National Assessments, said the tragic loss of the three soldiers was ''amplified greatly by the fact none of those men had to die''.

''The five soldiers who died in Afghanistan this week died unnecessarily and Howard, Rudd and Gillard all have blood on their hands.''

Ms Gillard would not discuss Mr Wilkie's comments at a news conference yesterday, except to say she was not going to get sidetracked into a domestic debate, ''even if some ugly language has been used''.

A manhunt continued yesterday for the Afghan soldier who killed the three Australians.

''There will be patrols out there at the present time. Our human intelligence sources, our electronic sources and so forth will all be put to work to try to track this fellow down,'' General Hurley said.

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