Remembering Derapet24 August 2020
A decade has passed since the Battle of Derapet, one of the largest engagements of Australian regular forces since the Vietnam War.
Twenty Australian soldiers and the Afghan National Army (ANA) members they were mentoring approached the village of Derapet in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan Province on the morning of 24 August 2010. It was a follow-up to a patrol carried out days earlier which had experienced contact with Taliban fighters, so the soldiers approached with the understanding that there was potential for another contact on that day.
What occurred was one of the largest engagements of Australian regular forces since the Vietnam War. Lance Corporal Jared ‘Crash’ MacKinney lost his life, and five Australian soldiers were awarded for their actions during the battle.
Private Paul Langer was one of them. Having joined the Australian Army as an 18-year-old three years earlier, Paul was on deployment in Afghanistan with 6RAR when, a month or so before returning home, he was at the front of the patrol.
On the tenth anniversary, Paul recalled the battle and how, for him, it will always be about the men he fought with, rather than their individual efforts.
“We came into [the patrol], I guess, prepared in the sense that we'd seen it two days prior. And taking the ANA in gave us a little bit more of a role there; that was to teach them about how to move through what we knew was going to be a contact,” says Paul.
“Myself and Sergeant Lanigan were partnered up and we had our designated ANA that we were partnered up and patrolling with. We were scouts at the lead of the patrol; designated to pathfind and put the patrol plan into action. We get a designated route and we obviously try and change our routes and approaches because of the IED threats. So [we were] leading that patrol with the partnered ANA and Australian element through that.
“We also had other Australian units in support of our patrol. That included some light armoured vehicles and some other infantry units that were Delta Company as well, I believe. We got quite a long way into the patrol before it actually kicked off.
“It was a much larger contact than we'd been exposed to prior. We'd had some exposure prior in the month leading up, that was a slow build-up. Then this was just a significantly larger enemy force that we'd bumped into and disrupted. They dug us in there for a few hours.”
The patrol engaged an estimated 100 Taliban fighters for up to four hours from initial contact through to breaking contact and returning to a patrol base a short distance away. Lance Corporal MacKinney was shot 33 minutes into the contact and evacuated by a Black Hawk helicopter. It is this, says Paul, that should be the focus of reflections on the battle.
“For me, it's always an emphasis on Crash and his family and that loss; it always has to be remembered above and beyond anything anyone else did. The emphasis [should be] not so much on us boys and individual efforts, but the loss of life,” says Paul.
For Paul, the battle is something he says comes up on occasion and is something he will never forget.
“With the implications it had on so many lives and the loss of life as well, I think it's definitely a hard one to forget. Remembering that lives were changed, and lives were ended on that day, it definitely doesn't get away from you,” says Paul.
Ten years on, Paul says that the anniversary of the battle each year provides an opportunity to reconnect with those he served with on that day.
“It’s always a bit of an opportunity to call around and say ‘G’day’ to one or two of the boys and catch up. Nothing too formal, but it’s always something that comes up. It’s mainly just about keeping in touch with some of the guys.”
Five Australian soldiers were awarded for their actions during the Battle of Derapet:
- Corporal Daniel Keighran, Victoria Cross for Australia
- Lieutenant James Fanning, Distinguished Service Medal
- Sergeant Sean Lanigan, Medal of Gallantry
- Private Paul Langer, Medal of Gallantry
- Private Sean Parker, Commendation for Gallantry
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Image courtesy of Department of Defence