A SPECIAL forces soldier facing possible criminal charges after apparently overdosing on drugs in Afghanistan has been given a gallantry commendation for saving the life of a fellow soldier during a battle with the Taliban.
The commendation could lead to a recognised war hero, still serving in the army, being prosecuted in a civilian court for drug offences.
The commando private, who the Herald has chosen not to name but Defence refers to as ''Private D'', was found unconscious in May in his quarters at the main Australian base in Afghanistan. The former chief of the Australian Defence Force Angus Houston said at the time that a substance believed to be an opiate was found in his room.
The soldier was flown to an American military base in Germany in a critical condition but later recovered and returned to Australia, where he was put on restricted duties. He has since returned to full duties.
In the aftermath, every special forces soldier in Afghanistan was drug-tested and some were sent home after testing positive for banned anabolic steroids.
After a year-long review by military investigators, the commando's case was passed by the military prosecutor to the civilian Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, who is considering whether to lay charges.
But the Herald has learned the soldier was given a commendation for gallantry in May in recognition of his actions during a battle in Afghanistan on April 3, 2009. Defence confirmed the award but would not give details of the circumstances, citing the need for anonymity.
''The actions undertaken by the Special Operations Task Group [including Private D] which have led to commendations are not routinely widely disclosed in further detail,'' a Defence spokesman said. ''This is due to the sensitive nature of the operations they are involved in while serving in Afghanistan.''
It is believed Private D was in a vehicle destroyed by an anti-tank mine during a night operation.
Despite suffering concussion and burst eardrums, Private D crawled forward into insurgent fire and applied life-saving first aid to a severely wounded soldier and helped in their evacuation.
One source said if Private D had been using drugs it was possible it might have been due to the effects of a combat incident in which he was involved.