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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Australian killed in Afghan blast
Australian soldier
Australia committed troops to Afghanistan in late 2001
An Australian soldier has become the first to die in direct combat in Afghanistan, after being killed in a roadside bomb attack.

An improvised explosive device detonated near the vehicle of Trooper David Pearce, 41, in central Uruzgan province, the defence department said.

Another soldier, whose name has not yet been released, was seriously wounded but is expected to return to duty.

Australia sent troops to join US-led forces in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Trooper Pearce died fighting for a "just cause".

This is a tragic day for the Australian Defence Force and our thoughts are with the families and friends of the two soldiers involved
Australian Defence Department

"We know it is a time of great grief for [Trooper Pearce's family] and we offer our prayers and our support to them and to the other loved ones of this soldier," Mr Howard said.

The blast occurred 6km (3.7 miles) from the Australian base at Tarin Kowt, 320km (200 miles) south-west of Kabul, as Trooper Pearce returned from a reconnaissance task in his light armoured vehicle.

"This is a tragic day for the Australian Defence Force and our thoughts are with the families and friends of the two soldiers involved," the defence department said.

Trooper Pearce's body will return home to Australia under constant military escort. In 2006, the body of an Australian soldier who died in Iraq, Private Jake Kovco, was confused with that of a Bosnian carpenter while being returned from Iraq.

Reconstruction team

There are 970 Australian army and air force troops in Afghanistan, mostly operating under the auspices of Nato as part of a predominantly Dutch force in the country's south.

Some 500 Australian soldiers are involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan's infrastructure, based in Tarin Kowt.

A further 300 are special forces soldiers who conduct wide area patrols aimed at curbing the Taleban insurgency.

In February 2002, an Australian special forces soldier died after his vehicle hit a landmine in southern Afghanistan - but Trooper Pearce's death was the first from a direct attack.

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