Families of three servicemen killed in a 'green on blue' attack in Afghanistan were told their sons' killer may soon be released

Private Robert Poate commanding a bushmaster in Afghanistan. Picture: Supplied
Private Robert Poate commanding a bushmaster in Afghanistan. Picture: Supplied

Families of three Australian soldiers killed by a rogue Afghan prisoner in a "green on blue" attack in 2012 have been advised by the Department of Defence that the killer appears certain to be released under prisoner swap deal.

It has been reported that the man responsible, known as Hekmatullah, would be one of the prisoners released as part of US-promoted peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Canberra's Private Robert Poate were playing cards at their base at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province in August 2012 when the rogue soldier, a trusted sergeant with the Afghan army, turned on them.

He shot and killed the three soldiers and injured two other Australians.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a recent meeting with Afghanistan's tribal council, the Loya Jirga, and reportedly has done a deal which would release 400 "hard core" Taliban prisoners, including the former Afghan National Army Sergeant Hekmatullah.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds had both lobbied heavily for the Afghan government to reconsider its plan.

The Canberra funeral of Private Robert Poate.

The Canberra funeral of Private Robert Poate.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly stated that the Australian government's position was that Hekmatullah should not be released.

He said on Monday that he had written to the US president, pleading with him to prevent the killer walking free from Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi prison.

"Hekmatullah was responsible for murdering three Australians, and our position is that he should never be released," Mr Morrison said.

"We do not believe that his release adds to peace in this region.

"I can't promise you the outcome we all want here but it's certainly the outcome that we will continue to press for as hard as we can."

It was reported by The New York Times that US President Donald Trump had sought the release of the prisoners as part of a broader deal for the phased withdrawal of American troops from the country.

The Times reported Afghan president Ghani has already released 4600 prisoners from a list provided by the Taliban but called for consultations over the remaining 400, including Hekmatullah, who he said were accused or convicted of major crimes, including murder.

Hugh Poate, the father of Private Robert Poate, was reticent to discuss this latest development as he said that he didn't want to jeopardise or interfere with any delicate political negotiations which may be going on behind the scenes.

"I'd like to let the dust settle on this matter for a day or two because I'm aware there are discussions underway and it may be wise to see what develops," Mr Poate said.

A 2015 coronial inquiry in Queensland found that an order from headquarters to increase security at patrol bases never reached troops on the ground at Tarin Kowt, and this may have stepped up the base's security posture sufficiently to prevent the attack by Hekmatullah.

"That [posture] may very well have deterred him from attacking them, or if it did not, the greater readiness of the platoon could have provided more opportunity to take more immediate defensive action, which could have prevented at least some of the deaths," deputy Coroner John Lock said at the inquest.

This story Rogue Afghan who killed Australian soldiers set for release under US-brokered deal first appeared on The Canberra Times.