David Savage was almost killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2012.
Working for AusAid at the time, Savage was the first civilian casualty of Australia’s war in Afghanistan.
The injury has left him wheelchair-bound and unable to work, after a storied career as a United Nations war crimes investigator and an Australian Federal Police officer.
Savage has spent the last eight years trying to make the Government recognise a series of failures in the lead-up to the attack, but he says the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has stonewalled him.
A helmet camera — worn by the US soldier assigned to protect him on the patrol between a scheduled meeting and the base — shows us what really happened. That includes the signs that were observed but then disregarded before the blast.
GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: This article contains vision of the immediate aftermath of a suicide bombing that may distress some readers.
What you’re seeing, is what this soldier could see.
This is 21 seconds before the blast. This boy is wearing a bomb and walking directly toward Savage, who is off to the right of screen.
To see all the events that led up to this moment, we have to rewind 23 minutes, as Savage and US soldiers from the Navy and National Guard prepare to head back to base after meeting a local official in the Chora Valley, Uruzgan.
In just under half an hour Savage and this US soldier will be lying in the dust, close to death.
The patrol is about to take a 700-metre walk to their patrol base on the outskirts of the town.
Most Australian civilians in Afghanistan at the time were protected by Australian soldiers … Savage’s security has been outsourced to the US military.
The patrol stops to buy local bread. They wait four and a half minutes for it to arrive.
The soldier wearing the helmet cam notices a local with hands stained bright orange.
HME means homemade explosives. The man isn’t searched.
The bread is collected and the patrol starts moving again. Their base is 500 metres ahead.
The son of a local tribal leader nicknamed “Brown Eyes”, with connections to the Taliban, rides past and stares pointedly at Savage.
The patrol’s forward scout radios to say that labourers have abruptly left their worksite ahead.
The soldier with the helmet cam is Savage’s security guard. Despite that, he’s now about 20 metres away from the Australian.
As the patrol passes the worksite that the labourers abandoned, one of the soldiers notices something.
Tools are valuable items and it’s odd that the labourers have left them behind.
The soldier with the helmet cam notices a child — later established to be about 12 years old — appear from behind a mudbrick wall.
He watches the child walking directly to Savage for 22 seconds, then turns away.
The last thing Savage remembers is looking at a soldier next to him, who has turned to him with a look of horror on his face.
And then … the bomb goes off.
Savage and two US soldiers take the brunt of the blast. Savage is thrown several metres up and across to the side of the road.
A couple of the soldiers run in to help Savage. One of them is a medic who is also badly injured.
Savage is in shock as the soldiers try to stop the bleeding from the multiple wounds in his legs.
The soldiers yell for armed backup from Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) gunners.
Australian soldiers arrive with stretchers.
Savage and the other wounded are taken by helicopter to Tarin Kowt where they receive life-saving surgery.
‘An unexpected event’
All up, the 700-metre walk from the departure point to the blast site took 23 minutes.
There was a major delay, while the soldiers stopped for bread in the market.
And there were three serious warning signs that might have alerted the patrol to the imminent attack.
First, they saw the man with orange hands — a sign that he could have been working with explosives.
Then labourers abruptly abandoned their tools.
The boy’s pristine white clothes are also a common indicator of a suicide bomber. And his steady walk towards Savage for almost 40 seconds wasn’t stopped.
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Finally, by the time of the blast, the US soldier assigned to guard Savage was 50 metres in front of him.
The ADF held an internal inquiry into the bomb blast and found “the attack was an unexpected event”.
“The patrol did not detect any threat prior to the … detonation,” the report said.
David Savage was working for AusAid while in the Uruzgan province in Afghanistan. (Facebook: David Savage)
Defence argued Savage should have been wearing an Australian-issued armoured vest, instead of US-issued armour.
Savage said he had used the US armour because the Australian equipment assigned did not fit him.
He says he repeatedly asked Defence to re-examine the helmet cam footage, but it refused.
Later, he discovered Defence was showing parts of this video to civilians about to work with the military in Afghanistan.
Damage to his legs from the blast eventually forced Savage into a wheelchair and he’s been unable to work, meaning his wife had to leave her job to care for him.
He has received financial compensation, but what Savage really wants is Defence to acknowledge that its inquiry failed to uncover the truth about what happened to him.