Ben Roberts-Smith, who is suing Nine Newspapers for defamation, has returned to court to explain why one memory brought him to tears.
Ben Roberts-Smith has returned to court on the 11th anniversary of the battle that earned him a place in Australia’s history – and brought him to tears in the witness box.
The SAS veteran broke down in tears on his first day of evidence, on Thursday, describing the seconds before he stormed machine gun nests in the Afghan village of Tizak in 2010.
He returned to his defamation trial against Nine Newspapers on Friday to explain the life and death “decision” that had brought him to tears a day earlier and would see him awarded the Victoria Cross.
Taliban belt-fed machine guns were hammering SAS soldiers, Mr Roberts-Smith told the court, and he realised he needed to make a choice.
“The decision was; could you go home and face their families if you didn’t do anything and they were to get injured or killed? Or do you go and potentially get injured or killed yourself?” Mr Roberts-Smith told the court.
“I always tried to serve my country with honour – the decision I made was I could die knowing I did the right thing by their families.”
He said his own family could live without him, knowing he did the right thing.
Mr Roberts-Smith said he moved toward the machine gun nests and went through a gap in the wall – he shot the first gunner who went down.
The second gunner – who he said looked about 15-years-old – was still firing at the pinned down Australians.
“You killed him?” his barrister Bruce McClintock asked him.
“Was it within the rules of engagement?”
“Yes,” Mr Roberts-Smith replied.
“How did you feel about it then and how do you feel about it now?” Mr McClintock asked.
Mr Roberts-Smith shook his head and grimaced.
“I struggle,” he said.
The battle of Tizak would be monumental for Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan. It was the largest firefight since the Vietnam War and the court heard it snuffed out 76 Taliban.
“It put a dent in the insurgency that they wouldn’t recover from for many years,” Mr Roberts-Smith said.
Mr Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroic efforts but he said the commendation was a monument to the bravery and gallantry of the entire troop.
The recognised soldier said the VC changed how he was treated by his own men and “put a target on my back”.
“As soon as you become a tall poppy that gives people an opportunity to drag you down, belittle you,” he said.
He said they used the award to bring him down out of “pure spite”.
The court heard Nine newspapers will call 21 current and former SAS operators to testify against Mr Roberts-Smith.
Among them will be one soldier known as Person 7 who was at Tizak.
Mr Roberts-Smith denounced claims attributed to Person 7 in court documents that the Taliban machine guns were barely firing at all.
“(The gunners) hit us with everything they had – they knew we were coming,” he said.
“They knew either we were going to die or they were going to die. They didn’t surrender.”
Mr Roberts-Smith said Person 7 did not like him and complained about him to superiors.
The court heard Person 7 even returned to Tizak and retraced the steps Mr Roberts-Smith was recorded to have taken in the official military history.
He is expected to tell the court he disagrees with Mr Roberts-Smith version of events.
Mr Roberts-Smith told the court Person 7 could return to Tizak and walk the same steps without being shot at, without the fear of death, and come to his own conclusions.
“He couldn’t get over I had a Victorias Cross,” Mr Roberts-Smith said.
The hearings continue.