Wartime issue 57 feature article: The falling leaves of Tizak
In June 2010, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) was nearing the end of his fifth tour in Afghanistan when his troop left Camp Russell at the multinational base at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province to strike Taliban insurgents. Roberts-Smith was second-in-command of an SAS patrol, up to five of which make up an SAS troop. In turn, the troop was part of the 60-strong SAS squadron that, together with a commando company of about 160 men, formed the Special Operations Task Group at Camp Russell. Both the SAS and commandos mentor a provincial response company of Afghan police that operates with them.
In January 2011, Australians learned that Roberts-Smith’s actions on that June day had made him the second Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross for gallantry in Afghanistan. Trooper (now Corporal) Mark Donaldson, also of the SAS, had been awarded the first, two years earlier. Like Donaldson, Roberts-Smith has generously given his Victoria Cross on permanent loan to the Australian War Memorial, where it is displayed in the Hall of Valour. In this interview, he speaks at length publicly for the first time about the circumstances that led to the award.
How did the action come about?
On 10 June 2010 we began what we call a large-scale disruption operation, by sending the commando company into the Shinazef Valley, an enemy stronghold in the Shah-Wali-Kot district in northern Kandahar. We were confident that special reporting would establish the location of the enemy commanders when they began to respond. Our SAS troop, which was on standby at Tarin Kowt, would then go after them.