Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

New details about killed NZ soldiers

Four New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team patrol groups were called in to help Afghan National Directorate of Security officers stabilise the situation. Photo / Patrick Gower
Four New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team patrol groups were called in to help Afghan National Directorate of Security officers stabilise the situation. Photo / Patrick Gower

Prime Minister John Key revealed a few more details about the two dead soldiers this morning, telling RadioLive both were both in their 20s and did not have a lot of family in New Zealand.

"Neither of them are married - one of them has a partner, but the partner is also in the New Zealand Defence Force and is overseas. The other guy doesn't have a lot of family at all in New Zealand," he said.

The names of the two men killed had not been released because the Defence Force had been contacting the family of all 140 soldiers posted in Afghanistan to update them on the situation.

"We try to give the families some time to come to terms with the enormous grief they will suffer," Mr Key said.

He admitted Bamiyan was becoming more dangerous for New Zealand troops.

"It's a much more serious situation up in the north part of Bamiyan now. We lost Tim O'Donnell two years ago. There's greater fire power going in from the Taliban, they've got a new bomb maker and they are better resourced and have moved people up from the southern provinces," he said.

"It's a more dangerous, hostile environment for our guys."

TALIBAN CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY

The Taliban have reportedly claimed responsibility for an ambush in Afghanistan that killed two New Zealand soldiers and injured six others.

US media quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as claiming that the militant group was behind the attack on members of New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and local police.

Mujahid claimed responsibility for the ambush in a statement posted on the Taliban website. He said four New Zealand soldiers were killed and four others were wounded. Taliban reports of casualties usually are exaggerated.

Yesterday, New Zealand Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Rhys Jones told media it was not thought the Taliban were responsible.

The slain New Zealanders are likely to be named today and their bodies are expected to be returned to New Zealand this week.

The attack in Afghanistan was the country's deadliest day in combat for more than 40 years.

Six other New Zealand Defence Force personnel were wounded, three seriously, when they went to the aid of Afghan police who were ambushed as they tried to arrest an insurgent.

INSURGENTS CAPTURED

The Daily Telegraph's Kabul correspondent Ben Farmer told Radio New Zealand two insurgents had been captured during the fierce battle.

"One of those prisoners, (Afghan police) say, is the brother of a notorious insurgent commander who the Bamiyan police have fought before called Haji Abdullah. (His) brother was captured and he's being interrogated," Farmer said.

"The chief of police in Bamiyan told me that insurgents had lost 15 or 16 men killed or wounded, but he did then say that ... there were no bodies recovered, so I think those casualty figures are probably speculative."

Farmer said the attack occurred at a checkpoint in the Shivar District of Bamiyan.

"It seems there has been an increase in violence this year. This is not the first violent attack in the province this year - there have been a number of attacks on Afghan police men this year. Just last month there were a number of big bombs that hit Afghan police patrols and killed a number of police and those events have been followed by the weekend's tragedy."

Bamiyan authorities were becoming anxious about the pending withdrawal of international forces from the area, he said.

"They've said before that they fear there is an increase in violence. They're very clear to point out that they don't think that these insurgents are home-grown from Bamiyan, they blame an overspill of violence from neighbouring provinces."

But in spite of threats in the northeast corner of Bamiyan province where New Zealand's PRT is operating, Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that New Zealand troops "remain on track" to leave Afghanistan some time next year.

Four PRT patrol groups were called in to help Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) officers stabilise the situation and evacuate wounded near a village south of Do Abe late on Saturday morning local time (7pm NZT).

The New Zealanders came under fire as they moved to secure high ground near a compound which had been taken by the Afghans.

One of the soldiers was killed instantly when an anti-tank rocket hit his armoured vehicle.

The other was on foot when he was hit by gunfire or shrapnel. He died in a helicopter on the way to hospital.

Three other soldiers were seriously injured and were expected to return to New Zealand, and a further three had moderate injuries.

General Jones said the casualties occurred during "a two to three minute timeframe in that first burst of fire".

Two NDS members died and seven were wounded.

A group of about 17 insurgents carrying dead and wounded were seen leaving the area.

Seven New Zealand soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002, but Saturday's toll makes it New Zealand's worst day in combat since June 18 1970, when infantrymen Lance Corporal Cecil Richard Fisk and Private Leonard Cyril Jones were killed during the Vietnam war.

The New Zealand flag would be lowered to half-mast on all government buildings today as a mark of respect, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage said.

The flags would also be lowered on the day of the men's funerals.

Mr Key said the loss of the two young men was "an enormous price to pay" as the PRT worked to bring stability to Bamiyan.

"My thoughts are with the family and friends of the two brave soldiers killed and also with the families and friends of those injured."

The Prime Minister said the increased risk in what was already the most dangerous part of Bamiyan province shouldn't alter New Zealand's commitment to keep the PRT in Afghanistan until next year.

"I don't think it argues the case we should stay longer but I don't think that the terrible loss we've suffered also argues we should leave earlier. I think we should just remain on track and continue to do the things we're doing."

AFGHANISTAN ROLL OF HONOUR

On Saturday two Provincial Reconstruction Team personnel were killed and six wounded during an ambush in Do Abe, in the northeast area of Bamiyan. Here are the other New Zealanders who have died in Afghanistan:

April 2012 - Corporal Douglas Hughes, 26

Corporal Hughes died while off duty at the Romero Forward Patrol Base in Bamiyan Province. The cause of his death has not been disclosed and is being investigated by the army. He had enjoyed life in the army, which he joined aged 17, but he hadn't been keen to serve a second tour of duty in Afghanistan, which he started in September last year.

September 2011 - SAS Corporal Leon Smith, 33

Corporal Smith was shot in the head during an operation in Wardak Province, southwest of Kabul, at a compound suspected of housing Taleban bomb-makers preparing for an attack in the capital. He was posthumously honoured with the Charles Upham Award for Bravery after risking his life trying to save a comrade six weeks before he died. He braved enemy fire when he ran across open ground to reach comrade Corporal Doug Grant and give him first aid.

August 2011 - SAS Corporal Doug Grant, 41

Corporal Grant was fatally wounded during an operation to rescue hostages at the British Council cultural centre in Kabul, which was being attacked by the Taleban. Eight policemen and three Afghan guards were also killed in the raid. Corporal Grant left behind his wife Tina and a daughter, 7, and son, 5. His death was the first SAS fatality in Afghanistan in four deployments since 2001.

February 2011 - PRT Private Kirifi Mila, 27

Private Mila was standing on the turret of a Humvee when it rolled down a 30m cliff near the village of Ferosak in the northeast of Bamiyan Province. Three other soldiers were in the vehicle on a patrol which involved three other Humvees. A military ceremony for Private Mila in Christchurch was cancelled after the earthquake struck the day before.

August 2010 - PRT Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell

The Provincial Reconstruction Team members were under Lieutenant O'Donnell's command when their patrol was ambushed near the town of Chartok in Bamiyan Province. The lead patrol vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, killing Lieutenant O'Donnell and injuring two of his comrades. The pair were honoured for their bravery after they tried to get their dead mate out of the burning vehicle while under intense fire from shoulder-launched rockets and machine guns.

- APNZ

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