David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Heavy weapons request for Afghanistan medics

General Rhys Jones' statement contrasted with the finding in the July 2011 military review into the death of Lieutenant O'Donnell. Photo / Mark Mitchell
General Rhys Jones' statement contrasted with the finding in the July 2011 military review into the death of Lieutenant O'Donnell. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Defence bosses were asked to allow soldiers in Afghanistan to ignore the Geneva Convention so medics could use heavy weapons.

The request was made in the 2010 review into the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, which described Kiwi patrols in Afghanistan to be "minimally manned".

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones has told the Herald a formal review into the idea was carried out by legal staff at NZ Defence Force headquarters.

He refused to release it but said the current policy retained the role of medics as non-combatants who carried light personal weapons in non-combatant roles.

The statement contrasted with the finding in the July 2011 military review into the death of Lieutenant O'Donnell, which stated medics would be trained in the use of heavier weapons before being sent to Afghanistan. It said medics would be trained in the use of "support weapons" - which usually include heavy machineguns, grenade launchers, mortars and rockets.

The inquiry found the Geneva Convention barred medics from combat roles but the stance "limits patrol effectiveness and affects the medical coverage of patrols".

The review, signed off in July 2011 by the current chief of the army, Major General Dave Gawn, pointed to the "minimally manned" patrols and the "primary role of the medic is the provision of medical support to the patrol".

The review said, "However, they [medics] will only be able to use them operationally when required for self protection or protection of their patients on the basis of a 'last man standing' situation." It said medics wore the red cross for identification.

- NZ Herald

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