The delay in the evacuation of SAS Signaller Sean McCarthy following his injury by a Taliban explosive device in Afghanistan could have been prevented, according to sources on the ground in Uruzgan province.
A source at the Tarin Kowt military camp, to which McCarthy was evacuated on 8 July following an explosion that critically injured him and injured three others, says an evacuation helicopter was available at Tarin Kowt, but instead helicopters were dispatched from Kandahar, over 100 kilometres to the south. These took an hour to reach McCarthy after rendezvousing with an escort Apache helicopter at Tarin Kowt.
A US Special Forces base, FOB Ripley, is situated within the military camp at Tarin Kowt. An AME (Aero-Medical Evacuation) or CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) normally operates from this base, provided by a US Army Pavehawk (a Blackhawk equipped for mid-air refueling) CSAR helicopter. Usually the Pavehawk is supported by a US Army Apache 64D Attack Helicopter so that it can deploy into combat areas.
For the past fortnight, the US Apache has not been at FOB Ripley, but support has been provided by Dutch Apache helicopters, six of which are currently located at the base. In addition to providing support for the US Special Forces operating in Uruzgan, the Pavehawk provides support for the ADF forces as well as Dutch forces.
The source says the Pavehawk and the escort Apaches were available on the day of the incident that killed Signaller McCarthy. In fact, one of the Apaches escorted the AMEs from Kandahar. It is not clear why the Apaches could not have rendezvoused mid-air with the AMEs rather than requiring the AMEs to touch down in Tarin Kowt, which cost further time.
It took nearly two hours for the AME helicopters from Kandahar to reach the site of the explosion, via Tarin Kowt, and move McCarthy to where medical staff were waiting for him at Tarin Kowt. He was pronounced dead on arrival. Although the location of the incident has not been revealed, it is understood that a flight from Tarin Kowt could have retrieved McCarthy in considerably less time, improving the chances of his survival.
Crikey has asked the Department of Defence about why the AME from Kandahar was used rather than the Tarin Kowt Pavehawk, and why the AME was required to meet its escort in Tarin Kowt before proceeding to the site of the explosion. The Defence Department has advised it is seeking information from personnel in Afghanistan. Crikey will provide the Department’s response once it is released.