Another Australian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan, just days after the death of Corporal Mathew Hopkins in Oruzgan province.

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The soldier was part of a route clearance operation when he was killed as he tried to defuse an improvised explosive device (IED).

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said the dead man – an explosives specialist – had died while trying to protect his friends.

“He took action to render the IED safe, there was an explosion when he was close to the device, and he was killed,” the defence chief explained.

He said that while words could do little to ease the pain of the dead soldier\’s family, he wanted them to know that their loved one “died protecting his mates”.

Condolences to family

“He was willing to sacrifice himself for them,” he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” he added.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said the man\’s family had been informed, but that no details about him would be released until Friday at the earliest.

He said “challenging, sensitive, ongoing” multi-national operations in the area where the deadly blast occurred meant he could give no more information.

“I need to protect the soldiers who remain in the field,” he said.

“A very important operation is under way at the moment, and I am not prepared to jeopardise the safety of our people.”

\’Ultimate sacrifice\’

The defence chief said news of the soldier\’s death was “especially tragic” given the death of Corporal Mathew Hopkins on Monday.

Corporal Hopkins, 21, a father-of-one, was killed in a firefight with Taliban insurgents.

His body is currently on its way home to Australia, following an emotional farewell ceremony in Afghanistan earlier today.

He said all defence personnel were “devastated that another soldier has been killed in the same week”.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the soldier\’s death came in “a tragic week for the Australian Defence Force and the Australian people”.

“This soldier has made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of his mates and his country, in defence of you and I.”

Tenth Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan