TALIBAN insurgents say they are on the hunt to kill Australians in Afghanistan, prompting warnings of a rising body count.
A day after SAS hero Sgt Matthew Locke was shot dead in an ambush, militants said they were stepping up their campaign to claim more Australian targets.
However the defence force shrugged off the threat.
"I won't comment on Taliban extremist propaganda, but I'll tell you this: we are actively targeting the Taliban," ADF spokesman Brig Andrew Nikolic said.
"(They) are threatened . . . and are trying to reassert their dominance. This not only includes attacks on our people, but often brutal intimidation of the local Afghan population."
An SAS source who asked not to be named said Australian special forces troops had been prize Taliban targets for months now.
"They have been wanting to kill Australians for a long time and they will keep at it, the bastards," the source said.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the ambush on the Australian patrol that killed Sgt Locke, a married father who had already won one of the military's highest honours for bravery in Afghanistan.
He was leading a foot patrol on the first day of an operation to clear Taliban and al-Qaida fighters out of the Chora Valley, north of the Australian base at Tarin Kowt, when he was shot in the chest.
Desperate comrades gave him first aid, but he died aboard a medivac helicopter.
He fell not far from where, in June 2006, his courage under fire won him the Medal for Gallantry.
He is the third Australian killed in action in Afghanistan, dying three weeks after Trooper David Pearce was killed by a roadside bomb nearby.
Prime Minister John Howard said the death was a tragedy.
He confirmed the Taliban had stepped up its offensive, but said growing casualties would not alter the nation's commitment to Afghanistan.
"It's going to continue to be dangerous," he said.
"There's always been danger. What's happened is the Taliban has stepped up its offensive against our forces andthe forces of our coalition partners."
He and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd and their wives made separate visits to Sgt Locke's wife at her Perth home.
"Our condolences are extended to the family," Mr Rudd said.
Governor General Maj-Gen Michael Jeffery, a former SAS chief who gave Sgt Locke his medal last December, led the tributes to a "magnificent, brave" soldier.
Sgt Locke was a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who'd served on dangerous missions in East Timor.
He won his gallantry medal when he repeatedly repelled Taliban trying to outflank his unit as they called in air strikes. Superiors said he saved a number of his comrades that day.
"The nation today has lost a genuine hero. The army has lost a gallant and respected soldier," Chief of Army Lt-Gen Peter Leahy said.
"It's a very sad day."
Defence force head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said Sgt Locke was one of the army's finest and "everything you would expect of an Australian soldier".
"He was courageous, dedicated and very professional.
"He took great pride in being an Aussie Digger."
Sgt Locke is survived by his wife, Lee, and their son, 13.
His body will begin the long journey home to Perth with a solemn ceremony at Tarin Kowt early next week.
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