Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an NZME. News Service reporter

Troops head for Afghan endgame

Kiwi soldiers will have bounties on their heads as army admits latest contingent face 'dangerous' mission.

The last batch of soldiers has left for Afghanistan, bracing themselves for attacks from insurgents desperate to win the propaganda war before New Zealand pulls out for good.

Fifty combat troops from 2nd 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment yesterday said a farewell to comrades and loved ones at Burnham Military Camp, near Christchurch.

They will be part of a force of 140 men and women headed to the mountainous Bamiyan province, where insurgents offer a US$100 ($121) bounty to anyone who kills a New Zealand soldier. It is a considerable amount in the region.

It is the 21st deployment to Afghanistan. The army said it wanted to give some "context" to the crucial final mission as New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team plans its April 2013 withdrawal.

Bomb experts also gave a demonstration of the improvised explosive device (IED) threat soldiers face. In the past six weeks, five New Zealand soldiers have died in Afghanistan, including three in a huge IED blast.

Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris were killed when their Humvee struck an IED on August 19.

Reporters were shown cheap detonators fashioned from tacky souvenirs, suicide bomber vests, and how the army has had to to adapt to the "ever evolving threat" of IEDs.

At a short farewell at a military hall within Burnham camp wire, families were told by Major General Dave Gawn that their loved ones had the best kit in the world. However, he admitted the soldiers were heading to a "dangerous" mission. "I can only imagine what you're going through considering events of five weeks ago, and your loved ones are going to Afghanistan."

Major Gawn earlier said: "If they [insurgents] can show they have, from a propaganda perspective, forced the withdrawal of foreign forces, then it is certainly to their advantage."

Lessons from the two August attacks were being used in training.

For Captain Chris Buerkeman, , saying goodbye to wife Karli and children Ruby, 3, and Sonny, 20 months, was "definitely the hardest part".

Mrs Buerkeman was apprehensive, especially given the recent deaths. "I'll just be pleased when he comes home safely," she said.

- APNZ

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