Soldier's death reveals army training concerns

By Mike Barrington

A military inquiry into the death of a Northland soldier in Afghanistan reveals deficiencies in the training of Kiwi troops that the Government has tried to hide, says Labour Defence spokesman Phil Goff.

A leaked inquiry report has revealed troops' training was reduced from five weeks to three because of a personnel shortage created by Rugby World Cup demands, and a commanding officer was not confident troops sent to Afghanistan were adequately prepared but felt he had no choice but to deploy them anyway.

The report found these issues didn't directly contribute to Kaikohe soldier Corporal Douglas Hughes' death, but Mr Goff said sending Kiwi troops into a war zone without adequate preparation was unforgivable.

The three pages of the inquiry which he released contained military information and did not include personal details about Corporal Hughes or the manner in which he died.

But Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman claims the troops were adequately trained and that Mr Goff breached a coronial suppression order by publicising details of the inquiry.

Corporal Hughes, 26, died while serving in Afghanistan on April 3, 2012 and the Army released no details about his death other than saying it was the result of a non-combat incident and Corporal Hughes had been off-duty at the time.

A military Court of Inquiry began into the fatality and coroner Gordon Matenga earlier this year found Corporal Hughes' death was suicide and he prohibited publication of all evidence about it, including the report of the Court of Inquiry.

Also, Mr Matenga said he was satisfied the Court of Inquiry had adequately investigated the death so no coronial inquiry would take place.

Mr Goff said the Defence Minister had refused to release the inquiry report, claiming it should be suppressed because of privacy issues.

"But a leaked copy shows that it's not privacy he's worried about. It's the damning revelations about inadequate training, preparation and management of troops in the field that he wanted to cover up," the Labour MP said.

Mr Coleman said training not carried out before troops left New Zealand had been completed in Afghanistan and he suggested there would be consequences for Mr Goff's "flagrant breach of a suppression ruling".

However, Corporal Hughes' mother, Venus Poa, of Pakotai, yesterday praised Mr Goff's efforts to shed light on her son's death.

Like him, she is critical of the military inquiry and has applied to Solicitor-General Mike Heron for an inquest to be held.

- Northern Advocate

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