NZ soldier killed in Afghanistan named

Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell had been in the Army for five years and was decorated for his actions in Timor Leste. Photo / NZDF
Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell had been in the Army for five years and was decorated for his actions in Timor Leste. Photo / NZDF

The New Zealand soldier killed in Afghanistan overnight was a decorated officer who had been in the army for five years.

Lieutenant Timothy Andrew O'Donnell, 28, died and two of his fellow soldiers were injured when their patrol was ambushed in the province of Bamyan. A local interpreter with the patrol was also injured during the attack.

Who was Lieutenant Timothy Andrew O'Donnell?

Lt O'Donnell was part of the guard of honor at Sir Edmund Hillary's funeral.

He had also served as part of the peace keeping force in Timor Leste where he was awarded The New Zealand Distinguished Service Decoration for rescuing some 600 people from an ambush druing a political rally. Read the citation here.

Lt O'Donnell - New Zealand's first combat casualty in Afghanistan - was part of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team and was based in Bamyan town in Bamyan Province.

Lt O'Donnell told TVNZ last month that the Afghanistan National Police needed more training.

"They still require a lot of work," he said.

"For police - they're not like the police back home. They don't go around really arresting people, they're basically security guards. But it's our job to build up their capacity and develop them so one day when we pull out, they'll be capable of taking over."

Lieutenant O'Donnell a 'free spirit', says Defence chief

Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae described Lt O'Donnell as a "free spirit". He said he had spoken to the officer's family this morning and passed on his condolences.

Lt-Gen Mateparae told media Lt O'Donnell had been part of a routine patrol when a bomb went off under one of the vehicles at about 4am local time (12.30am NZT).

After the initial explosion the personnel were able to extricate themselves from the vehicles and take cover in a nearby building and consolidate their position. The attack lasted about 20-30 minutes Lt-Gen Mateparae said.

"Three New Zealand vehicles which made up the patrol came under a complex attack by as yet unknown assailants," he said.

"We believe that an improvised explosive device or IED was detonated and then the patrol came under fire from two positions with rocket-propelled grenades and other small arms fire."

He said it was not clear if the Lt O'Donnell had been killed by the IED or gunshots.

It took 11 hours to get the wounded back to base and Lt-Gen Mateparae praised the operation to get support to the soldiers after the attack.

"The tactics, techniques and processes have been very professional," he said.

Lt-Gen Mateparae said the patrol was backed up by Afghanistan National Police but helicopters could not get to the site because of bad weather.

Injured soldiers injuries not life-threatening

He said the two soldiers were seriously hurt but that their injuries were not considered life-threatening.

One of the injured NZ soldiers had burns to 10 per cent of his body, as well as cuts and abrasions. The second had cuts and abrasions and a suspected broken foot, he said.

The injured men have not been named and it is expected that they will be evacuated to Germany to a military hospital for treatment.

Lt-Gen Mateparae said Defence Force was trying to get the body of Lt O'Donnell and the wounded soldiers back to New Zealand "as expeditiously as possible".

"On behalf of the New Zealand Defence Force we extend our sincere condolences to the family of this brave New Zealander."

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said the attack showed "the dangers faced by our defence people everyday in Afghanistan".

"The Provincial Reconstruction Team has been been working to assist the people of Bamyan province but it remains a dangerous place especially in the place where this attack occurred on a New Zealand patrol in the north-east."

Mr Mapp said he sent his aroha to Lt O'Donnell's family and the two wounded.

He said it was unusual for a soldier of Lt O'Donnell's rank to receive the New Zealand Distinguished Service Decoration.

"The Government has the responsibility to deploy our young people overseas and serve our country. We all know, that in making these decisions, it is they who pay the price and in this instance it is Lt O'Donnell who has paid the ultimate price," Mr Mapp said.

John Key woken to be told of shocking news

In Vanuatu, Prime Minister John Key told media the attack involved 10 to 12 soldiers and three cars on patrol. He said it took place about half an hour after the soldiers had visited a neighbouring village.

The attack was in the north-eastern corner of Bamyan in an area where skirmishes were not uncommon and there had been heightened attacks and a "degree of anxiety".

"It wasn't possible to get air support services to give them cover because the weather was too bad at the time. We don't know exactly what's caused the death and injury and I wouldn't want to speculate until we had some better information."

Mr Key said he had been woken and informed of the attack about 1.30am.

Mr Key said he had spoken with Lt O'Donnell's mother and passed on his condolences to her.

He said he would not go into details of the conversation but the soldier's mother had asked to pass on her regards to the families of the injured soldiers.

"I think that shows extraordinary bravery and courage on her part and shows the strength of the wider military family."

Mr Key said the injured soldiers had primarily suffered burns and cuts and that one had a leg injury. They are receiving medical treatment in Afghanistan.

Lt O'Donnell's death not a reason to withdraw - Key

Mr Key said the military was reviewing its procedures, tactics and equipment for Bamyan but that he did not see the incident as a reason to withdraw from the province, or from Afghanistan.

In an earlier statement, Mr Key said Lt O'Donnell's death reinforced the danger New Zealand troops faced.

"This is New Zealand's first combat loss in Afghanistan and reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the province," Mr Key said.

"It is with enormous sadness that I acknowledge that this soldier has paid a high price and my thoughts are with his family and the families of the injured."

Political reaction

Labour leader Phil Goff said Lt O'Donnell's death was a sad reminder that defence personnel put their lives at risk.

"Our thoughts and sympathy are with the family of the soldier who was killed and on behalf of the Labour Party I offer them our sincere condolences," Mr Goff said.

Green Party Defence Spokesman Keith Locke said he was saddened by the death and also sent his condolences to the families of the men and the NZDF.

"We are proud of the good peacekeeping and reconstruction work that our Provincial Reconstruction Team has done in Bamyan Province, and we mourn the loss of one of its members."

The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team's (NZPRT) headquarters in the province is Kiwi Base. To the south is the airfield while the main township and bazaar are located to the north of the base.

The sixteenth rotation of the (NZPRT), commanded by Colonel John Boswell arrived in Afghanistan in April and were expected to remain in the country for about six months.

John Key visited Bamyan earlier this year, and the Government has announced that the NZPRT will extend their secondment until September 2011.

The force works on maintaining security in Bamyan Province, and carries out frequent patrols throughout the area.

It also supports the provincial and local government by providing advice and assistance to the Provincial Governor, the Afghan National Police and district sub-governors.

The NZPRT also identifies, prepares and provides project management for NZAID projects within the region.

It consists of four liaison (LNO) teams supported by infantry, engineers, staff officers, communications and logistic staff.

The first NZPRT deployment to Afghanistan departed in August 2003 on a four month rotation.

New Zealand also has a small number of Special Air Service personnel serving in Afghanistan. In total New Zealand has approximately 140 personnel in Bamyan and about 80 SAS soldiers in Kabul.

- NZPA, Derek Cheng, NZHERALD STAFF

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