Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Interim finding: NZ soldiers injured by friendly fire

Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. Photo / File / Wayne Drough
Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. Photo / File / Wayne Drough

Two New Zealand soldiers were injured by friendly fire during a heated battle in which two of their colleagues were killed in Afghanistan last year.

A Court of Inquiry (COI) is set to find Lance Corporals Pralli Durer and Rory Malone were killed by enemy fire, but an interim finding has found two others were likely to have received shrapnel wounds as a consequence of fire from their comrades.

The Battle of Baghak happened on August 4, last year after New Zealand troops went to help ambushed Afghan colleagues.

The Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, said battle procedures were designed to prevent such incidents.

"However, in the extraordinary confusion of a heated fire fight the possibility of injuries as a consequence of fire from our own side is regrettably not unusual.

"Throughout the history of warfare, most militaries in all conflicts have experienced such events. Nor is this new to the New Zealand Defence Force."

The inquiry had considered the "appropriate rules of engagement were followed", he said.

More detail about the incident would be provided once the inquiry had wrapped up.

"The initial part of the proceedings of the COI has been completed by the Inquiry Team and it has been signed and presented to the Assembling Authority - the higher commander - who is this week considering the findings and writing his report," Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said.

"All of this material will then be reviewed before the families of the deceased, and the wounded, are given an opportunity to comment on the findings in accordance with natural justice principles that are followed. Then the COI will be reviewed by Defence Legal as a final check."

The findings were expected to be released publicly in May.

"Until the COI is publicly released, the NZDF will not be making any further comment from the interim findings contained in this release," Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said.

The interim findings of the COI were:

• The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT) had been on operations for four months at the time of the Baghak incident. They were fully acclimatised, and operated as a cohesive unit;

• The NZPRT was adequately prepared for its mission;

• This was a complex military action;

• The insurgents were most likely a mix of `hardened' insurgents and local tribesman. They carried a mix of medium and small calibre weapons. There was at least one sniper/marksman.

• The NZ Army soldiers performed well;

• The New Zealand troops were providing in extremis support to the Afghanistan National Security Forces and it is highly likely they would have suffered significantly more casualties than it did, if not for New Zealand's intervention;

• Corporals Durrer and Malone were killed by insurgent fire;

• Four other members of the patrol were wounded by insurgent fire;

• Two members of the patrol were most likely wounded by shrapnel from "friendly fire";

• The "friendly fire" came about because of diminished situational awareness due to key commanders being wounded or attending those that had been wounded; and

• Evidence received by the Court of Inquiry established that Rules of Engagement were applied appropriately.


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