ANOTHER Australian solider has been killed in Afghanistan - the seventh this year and the 39th since the conflict began more than a decade ago.
Defence Force Chief General David Hurley said the 24-year-old solider, who was part of a Special Operations Task Group conducting an operation in Uruzgan province, died instantly on Sunday night (AEDT) when an improvised exploding device detonated while he was helping to clear a compound.
The task group was conducting a disruption operation against an insurgent network when the soldier was killed.
No other ADF or Afghan army personnel were injured by the explosion.
Because the partnered operation was ongoing Gen Hurley was unable to provide any other details about the incident.
The soldier's identity and military service record have not yet been released at the request of his family.
Gen Hurley said the soldier was "highly qualified" and had significant operational experience.
He extended the ADF's sympathies to the soldier's friends and family, adding "every loss is significant in its own right".
"His commanding officer described him as an exceptional soldier who will be remembered as genuine, honest and dedicated," Gen Hurley said in Canberra.
"The soldier's death is a solemn reminder of the dangers our brave men and women face in Afghanistan every day."
Prime Minister Julia Gillard also expressed her condolences to the man's family, friends and colleagues and said today was another reminder "Afghanistan is a very dangerous place".
While unable to talk about the specifics of the operation or the soldier, she said it was clear Australia had had "lost a brave soldier who was going about difficult and dangerous work in Afghanistan".
"And his loss will be mourned by the whole nation," Ms Gillard said.
Ms Gillard, who visited Afghanistan last week on her way to India, said Australian troops remained in good sprits despite the heavy casualty rate this year.
She said they were determined to stay the course in Afghanistan.
"Their morale remains high even though during the course of this year they have seen a great deal of loss," she said.
"And they are very determined to see the mission that we have set ourselves through in Afghanistan; a mission with a defined strategy and a defined end point.
"But none of that makes absorbing the news of this loss any easier. The news of every loss is as hard as the news of the first loss.
"So there will be a lot of people grieving today and our thoughts are with them in their grief."
Ms Gillard said she remained confident Australia was on track to withdraw the bulk of its troops by 2014.
But she said the "door was open" to leaving special forces soldiers in Afghanistan post-withdrawal.
"Of course we've got to define the nature of our commitment as part of the NATO train, advise, assist mission," she said.
"We are some way from defining those numbers and that is because NATO-ISAF is still some way from defining its forces and numbers.
"For example, the United States has not as yet been clear about its contingent in Afghanistan post-2014.
"So we need to keep consulting with NATO-ISAF, with all of the coalition forces who are there, before we can make final decisions about that matter. Certainly those decisions would not be taken during the course of this calendar year."
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott issued a brief statement saying all Australians would feel the loss of another solider in Afghanistan.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and comrades and on behalf of the Coalition I extend our deepest condolences," Mr Abbott said.
"Like all who have served our country, and who serve our country in the Australian Defence Force, he sought to make the world a safer place. All Australians honour him."
Greens Leader Christine Milne passed on her condolences to the soldier's family and friends and again urged the government to withdraw Australian troops "as swiftly and safely as possible".
Deaths in Afghanistan
- JULY 2: Sgt Blaine Diddams, 40, shot and killed during an engagement with insurgents.
- AUGUST 30: Pvt Nathanael Galagher, 23, killed in a helicopter crash.
- AUGUST 30: Lce Cpl Mervyn McDonald, 30, killed in a helicopter crash.
- AUGUST 30: Lce Cpl Stjepan Milosevic, 40, shot and killed by a member of the Afghan National Army.
- AUGUST 30: Pvt Robert Poate, 23, shot and killed by a member of the Afghan National Army.
- AUGUST 30: Sapper James Martin, 21, shot and killed by a member of the Afghan National Army.
- OCTOBER 21: Name unknown, 24, killed in an IED explosion.