Australian commando in serious condition after drug overdose in Afganistan

By buseman · Jun 4, 2010 · ·
  1. buseman
    A commando was unconscious and seriously ill in a German hospital on Thursday in the first suspected case of an Australian soldier using illicit narcotics in Afghanistan, an official said.

    No Australian soldier has been suspected of abusing opiates, which are rife in Afghanistan, since Australia first committed troops to the Central Asian country in 2001, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, Australian Defence Force Chief, told reporters in Canberra.

    The soldier, a private, was found unconscious in his room at the Australian base at Tarin Kowt on Friday last week and had been flown to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl in Germany, Houston said.

    White powder thought to be an opiate and a bottle of unidentified pills were found in his room, Houston said.

    The powder was being analyzed to identify it and to determine if it had contributed to the soldier’s condition, he said.

    It would appear at this early stage that the use of illicit drugs may be involved in this incident, Houston said.

    All other commandos in his unit had since been tested for prohibited drugs including narcotics.

    The results of those tests were not yet known, he said.

    Houston said tests for prohibited substances other than opiates had been conducted on Australian soldiers in Afghanistan in the past where there had been suspicions of drug abuse.

    I’ve never had any concern up to now about narcotics, Houston said.

    We haven’t had a single incident over the whole time we’ve been in Afghanistan.

    A military inquiry headed by a civilian lawyer would be established to investigate what had happened, the effectiveness of the Australian military’s drug testing regime and the extent of drug abuse in the field.

    Defence Minister John Faulkner on Thursday also requested a report on the availability of mental health services for Australian troops in Afghanistan.

    Australia is the largest contributor to the U.S.-led alliance in Afghanistan outside NATO, with 1,550 troops currently deployed there.

    Most of them, including the sick commando, are based in the restive Uruzgan province.

    Houston described the soldier as "an experienced commando" who remained unconscious with an uncertain prognosis. Houston declined to identify the soldier for privacy reasons.

    The soldier joined the Australian army in 2004 and was on his third six-month tour with a commando unit in Afghanistan, where 11 Australian soldiers have been killed in action, a Defence Department statement said.

    He was found by colleagues who could not wake him and administered first aid.

    He was flown to U.S. military hospitals in Kandahar then Bagram where his condition was stabilized, the statement said.

    He was evacuated from Afghanistan on Tuesday to Germany, and his parents and girlfriend flew from Australia to visit him.

    The Australian military has a zero-tolerance policy on illicit drug use.

    Afghanistan supplies 90 per cent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient in heroin.

    Afghanistan’s illegal opium poppy crops are a multimillion dollar business for the Taliban.

    Rod McGuirk
    Thursday, June 3, 2010

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  1. John Doe
    The Drugs Trap: Addicted in Afghanistan

    The Drugs Trap: Addicted in Afghanistan

    Afghanistan is doing what it has done well for so long – seducing invading forces by the lure of drugs and lingering addiction. In November last year, there were reports from the New Freedom of Information showing how hundreds of soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Australian forces have been engaged with the use of various illegal drugs. Young Diggers Australia president John Jarrett made the assertion that, ‘Soldiers (are) going over there, from NSW, healthy and normal, and coming back with all kinds of addictions’ (Sunday Mail, Nov 22, 2009).

    The reports have been coming in regularly about how Australian soldiers are suffering from various levels of combat stress, a condition that makes the taking of drugs an appealing option.

    The latest revelation about an Australian commando’s possible overdose after a function may send shivers down the military establishment, but it can hardly be deemed unusual. All of Australia’s 300 special forces must now undertake testing, and the results may well be grim. Such personnel have created something of a myth amongst their own kind, staying the course when other conventional forces might not have managed.

    The head of the Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston is urging caution in assessing the matter. ‘Because of the stresses of the operation they were on, the commanding officer authorised a small function where alcohol was consumed. That was the extent of it’ (The Age, Jun 3).

    The Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James is also cordoning off the incident quickly. While Afghanistan might well be ‘awash’ with drugs, the opportunities for soldiers to obtain them were few, given the limited contact with local people. ‘If you are getting your quotient of excitement through your job, then you don’t really need to get it chemically.’ The world of fighting is evidently often one of illusion.

    The sad fact of the matter is that such matters are never ‘the extent’ the establishment fighting wars would expect. Such revelations are hardly new. The Soviet forces fell for the use of heroine and duly spread its use on their return.

    What remains to be seen is how Australian forces will react to this discovery. The first reactions have been ones of denial and minimisation – ‘we don’t have a problem’ seems to be the official line. Will the commando be pilloried for his dabbling in this world of dangerous relief? Will compassion prevail? War has a habit of not discriminating in terms of the victims it produces.

    Friday, 4 June 2010, 4:56 pm
    Binoy Kampmark

    Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [see article]
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