Never-before-seen footage captures the chilling moment a 12-year-old suicide bomber nonchalantly walked through the desert and blew himself up in front of an Australian aid worker in Afghanistan.
David Savage, from Canberra, was deployed in the Chora Valley in 2012 in a joint military and civilian mission tasked with rebuilding the town after decades of war.
On March 26th the same year, he was targeted by a child suicide bomber in a white robe while heading back to base from a political meeting.
On March 26th of the same year, a 12-year-old suicide bomber in white garb detonated a bomb near the group
Mr Savage’s American security team were more than 20metres in front of him when ‘everything went quiet’.
‘The two people who were meant to be my security were gone… So I was sort of wandering and there was nobody close by me,’ Mr Savage told ABC’s 7.30 program.
Suddenly, Mr Savage spotted the child in white robes walking towards him in the distance.
Two other soldiers – one Navy medic and an army captain – were close by the Australian.
Mr Savage said as the child got closer, he made eye contact with one of the other men – and immediately knew they were in danger.
‘He turned to face me whether to say something – or because he sensed something – and he looked at me. All I can say is it was a face of sheer horror.’
A split second later, the bomb was detonated and the three men were sent flying across the hard-packed dirt road.
Mr Savage was left wheelchair bound after the accident. His legs were shattered, one of his lungs collapsed and he suffered a brain injury (Pictured during a recent interview discussing the trauma)
‘I heard the blast and I felt myself going through the air. The next thing I woke up and I was laying on my back,’ he said.
‘I actually thought that I was dead. I couldn’t hear anything and wasn’t in any pain whatsoever and just thought ”I’ve died, this is what it’s like”.’
The entire ordeal was recorded on a device strapped to one of the security worker’s helmets. It was anonymously posted to Mr Savage after the attack.
He miraculously survived the blast, but has been wheelchair-bound ever since.
He was peppered with 64 ball bearings and pieces of shrapnel, some of which stopped just 2mm short of his heart.
Helmet footage of the attack shows Mr Savage immediately after he was blown up
Mr Savage’s legs were shattered, one of his lungs collapsed and he suffered a brain injury.
Doctors later told him his injuries were similar to being shot eight times at point blank range.
Mr Savage returned to Australia and asked the Australian Defence Force to launch an investigation, but is dissatisfied with the findings.
He believes the helmet footage is a clear indicator that his security team missed at least three crucial pieces of information and hoped the failures would be thoroughly investigated.
Mr Savage (pictured with his wife) returned to Australia and asked the Australian Defence Force to launch an investigation, but is dissatisfied with the findings
The Australian Defence Force cleared all parties of any wrongdoing and described the event as an unforeseeable accident.
But footage from the helmet camera showed one of the American soldiers noticed a civilian with bright orange hands minutes before the assault – a clear indicator he may have been working with explosive devices.
‘Stained hands are usually a sign of HME (homemade explosive) production,’ the soldier said in the video.
The second red flag occurred minutes later, when they travelled further toward their base and realised local labourers had abandoned their work site – and their tools.
Tools are an expensive commodity in Afghanistan and most workers would not leave them behind under normal circumstances.
Mr Savage worked in the police force and as a war crimes investigator prior to the attack
Further, coalition soldiers were told to watch for children walking on their own wearing pristine white robes.
The internal probe determined there was no intelligence warnings or threats leading up to the attack that could have prepared them, but former Army combat engineer officer Chris Thompson-Lang told the ABC he disagreed with that logic.
‘We’d had multiple reports of suicide bombers being trained,’ he said.
‘And there were reports of two 12-year-old children being prepared for Chora right through the time that I was there. For as long as I could remember, there were reports coming in.’
Mr Savage now believes one of those 12-year-old boys tried to kill him.
‘The nature of intelligence is that you get snippets of information when you can from the sources that you have,’ Mr Thomson-Lang said.
‘It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to happen straight away… that threat was persistent. [We weren’t] going to get a tip-off the day of [an attack]. That’s unrealistic.
‘I thought that it was highly likely that the child that blew David up was one of the two that had been reported while I was there and one of the two that we’d been looking for.’
Since returning home to Australia, Mr Savage met former Prime Minister John Howard (pictured together)
A former Special Air Service soldier told the ABC he believes the stained hands of the local man and the disappearance of labourers should have indicated something sinister.
‘They clearly had an outcome of their inquiry that they wanted to achieve, which was that there was no blame for Defence… and they constructed the investigation to ensure that outcome,’ Mr Savage said.
‘Never in my wildest dreams would I think that I’d get wounded [and] my own country would damage me even further by covering up what occurred.’
A spokesman from the ADF insisted the organisation followed due protocol.
‘The [inquiry] report did not identify any shortfalls with the US security force tactics, techniques and procedures prior to the mission on 26 March 2012.
‘The actions taken by the United States security force immediately after the incident may have saved Mr Savage’s life.’