How a secret tunnel in Afghanistan is now at the centre of the Ben Roberts-Smith defamation trial
- Ben Roberts-Smith’s testimony has been backed up in court by an SAS soldier
- Roberts-Smith is suing The Age, Sydney Morning Herald over war crimes reports
- War veteran denies all reported claims he committed war crimes in Afghanistan
An SAS soldier has told a court he crawled through a secret tunnel in Afghanistan where no men were found, backing up Ben Roberts-Smith’s testimony.
The witness codenamed Person 35 from New Zealand in the Federal Court on Wednesday gave evidence about a 2009 mission to a Taliban compound dubbed Whiskey 108 in Uruzgan province.
At some point while his troop were clearing the ground he heard a radio call that a tunnel had been discovered, he said.
Ben Roberts-Smith (pictured with his ex-wife Emma) had his testimony backed up by an SAS soldier
He described the hidden opening close to an animal pen, with livestock feed piled on top of a mesh covering to hide the secret entrance.
While his team commander trained his rifle onto the opening, there was a discussion as to who would enter the tunnel.
‘Ben volunteered to clear it and I laughed at him,’ he said.
Mr Roberts-Smith ‘wasn’t going to fit’ and Person 35 was more suitable, so removed his body armour and his long M4 gun to move into the rough-cut hole.
The initial entry was small, and difficult to manoeuvre through, he said, but once down and under the ground it opened up enough to ‘shuffle on one knee forward’ and into a larger room.
He poked his head around and with his pistol, cleared all sides of the enclosure, he said.
Ben Roberts-Smith (pictured leaving court) is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation
Arthur Moses SC on behalf of Mr Roberts-Smith asked if he located or observed any individuals in the tunnel.
Person 35 did find a large cache of weaponry and communication devices, and took these back to the surface.
The incident remains a key point of contention.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s former patrol commander Person Five also recently backed up his claims that ‘no men’ were found inside the tunnel.
But the media outlets being sued for defamation allege two Afghan men willingly emerged and surrendered to Australian troops.
Person Five who finished giving evidence on Tuesday denied ordering a ‘rookie’ to execute one of the prisoners to get his first kill in action.
His second-in-command Mr Roberts-Smith was allegedly left to facilitate this direction and is accused of executing the other prisoner with a prosthetic leg.
Roberts-Smith (pictured in battle) has his testimony backed by a witness codenamed Person 35 from New Zealand
Both men denied this and all accusations of wrongdoing.
Person 35 is appearing on behalf of his friend Mr Roberts-Smith who is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation.
The war veteran denies all reported claims he committed war crimes in Afghanistan including murder, and acts of bullying and domestic violence, while the mastheads are defending them as true.
Person Five testified his troop was clearing along the compound walls when he was called back to the tunnel entrance, and was present when Person 35 crawled inside.
Person 35 on Wednesday could only remember Person 29 and Mr Roberts-Smith there at the time.
It contradicts evidence of other SAS soldiers who appeared on behalf of the newspapers, who provided another version of events.
An elite serving soldier codenamed Person 42 said a group of agitated women alerted his squad to the entrance where at least two men came out – unarmed, freely and relatively quickly.
Person 42 said the discovery was made alongside Person 35.
The trial before Justice Anthony Besanko continues.
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