A SENIOR soldier has blasted plans to send 100 troops to Afghanistan next month without mortar support.
The Townsville-based Digger, who does not want to be identified, also revealed troops heading off to war against the Taliban have been forced to buy their own combat boots.
More than a dozen Diggers from the 5th Mechanised Battalion have purchased American made Altama and Bates boots for up to $250 a pair because their Q (supply) store ran out of army-issued combat footwear.
"It is a joke," one soldier said.
Mortars are the most effective form of fire support to infantry.
Especially if they are pinned down like Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney and his mates from the 6th Battalion were in Afghanistan last month.
The young Lance Corporal became Australia's 21st fatality in Afghanistan and his comrade who sent the explosive email revealed this week by The Advertiser argued that mortar support might have saved the father of two.
"That contact would have been over before Jared died if they gave us f*****g mortars," he said.
The senior soldier contradicted joint operations chief Lieutenant General Mark Evans who told the media yesterday that troops fighting in the three-hour battle in Afghanistan last month did not run low on ammunition.
"A mate of mine who was there said they had to withdraw because ammo was low," he said.
While he regards the lack of boots as very serious, the soldier said mortars were a matter of life and death.
"A lot of blokes would be dead if it wasn't for mortar support, especially in Afghanistan," he said.
The senior soldier said that mortars were the only guaranteed fire support for infantry troops.
"Mortarmen are soldiers within the battalion they are supporting, so they know full well the urgency and the reason when they are needed to fire," he said.
A good mortar line can have highly accurate weapons ready to fire within two or three minutes.
According to some insiders, tactical commanders are reluctant to use mortars and artillery due to the risk of civilian casualties and prosecution.
The insurgents deliberately fight in populated areas to expose local civilians, and five Australian commandos are facing possible unlawful killing charges over the deaths of six Afghan civilians, including five children, in February 2009.
Australian infantry units use 81mm mortar tubes manned by three soldiers with three tubes per section.
Three combat teams from the 5th Battalion will deploy next month to replace the Brisbane- based 6th Battalion in Oruzgan Province, but only two will take mortars.
"For unknown reasons a Major in charge of the third team has decided not to take any mortars," the soldier said.
"There are so many things wrong and so many leaders making decisions that will get people killed, and have got people killed.
"This is very disheartening, what do we tell these kids heading to war?"
A chorus of serving and former soldiers have jumped to the defence of the Digger who sent this week's email while condemning the response from the top brass in Canberra.
Vietnam veteran and war pensioner Bernie McGurgan, from Capalaba in Queensland, posed a simple question to General Evans: "Are we fighting a war in Afghanistan or not?
"If the answer is yes, nothing is too good or too costly in providing the ultimate and maximum fire support for our fighting soldiers," Mr McGurgan said.
Click to view image: 'ADF Troops in Oruzgan'
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