Rebecca Quilliam

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

NZDF release footage of fatal military attack

A Defence Force inquiry into fatal attacks in Afghanistan has found two New Zealand soldiers were probably injured by friendly fire and and two were killed by insurgents during an apparent ambush.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, a New Zealand soldier's remains was sent home with a live grenade and ammunition on them.

The Court of Inquiry today released its findings into incidents on August 4 and August 19 last year, in which five New Zealand soldiers died in attacks by Afghanistan insurgents.

In an unprecedented move, the Defence Force released a video of the battle, taken by one of the soldiers with a camera mounted on his helmet.

The video shows clearly the harsh terrain the soldiers were fighting in and the advantage the insurgents had over the allies by positioning themselves high up on rocky cliffs and shooting down to the NDS and Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) who were travelling along the valley.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the soldier used his own initiative with the camera and it was a procedure they would be using in future battles to allow the public to see the circumstances in which battles take place.

Chief of Army Major General Dave Gawn said the Battle of Baghak on August 4, in which Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone were killed and four colleagues injured, was the biggest battle New Zealand soldiers had seen since Vietnam.

FATAL FRIENDLY FIRE 'IMPOSSIBLE'

The court of inquiry confirmed that during the "intense and particularly chaotic'' firefight, two New Zealand soldiers were likely to have been hit by other New Zealand troops.

But it said it would have been "impossible'' for Lance Corporal Durrer to have been shot unintentionally by a New Zealand soldier.

Lance Corporal Malone was fatally shot by a 7.62mm calibre round - mostly used by insurgents.

The troops were at Baghak to support the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS) troops who, earlier in the day, were attempting to arrest some insurgents in the area, but were apparently "compromised'' and ambushed by a group of "hardline insurgents and tribesmen'' including at least one marksman, said Major General Gawn.

The inquiry found that the friendly fire incident was avoidable insofar as it was due to "inadequate situational awareness'', in particular that one of the New Zealand patrols was unable to see other patrols.

The inquiry found only one incident of friendly fire, but one of the injured soldiers, known as Soldier F, reported he believed a second friendly fire incident occured with New Zealand troops firing towards his patrol.

However, Major General Gawn said nobody else backed up that report and it was believed the soldier was mistaken.

Soldier F has since left the army, disillusioned with the army and "struggling to come to terms'' with the incident.

LIVE GRENADE MISSED

The second incident looked into by the inquiry was the attack on New Zealand soldiers when a Humvee ran over an improvised explosive device (IED), killing Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris and Corporal Luke Tamatea.

All three died instantly when their vehicle was destroyed by the explosive made up of "50 pounds'' of homemade explosives, Major General Gawn said.

The three were flown to Christchurch on different flights where, during a pathology examination, a live grenade and two 9mm rounds were found on one of the bodies.

"The families were shocked - I was shocked,'' Major General Gawn said.

The injuries sustained by the soldiers were so traumatic that the fist-sized grenade was not discovered, despite uniforms being patted down.

Metal detectors also failed to detect the weapon.

The inquiry said it would have been "desirable'' for the remains to have been x-rayed in Afghanistan, but the appropriate equipment was not available.

"However, in the absence of suitable x-ray equipment a physical search would have been required.

"This runs against current SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) which seeks not to disturb remains before they are examined as part of a post mortem.''

The court recommended the Defence Force review its SOPs in consultation with the Pathology Service.

FRIENDLY FIRE 'ALWAYS A RISK'

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says New Zealand soldiers being injured by friendly-fire in Afghanistan was "unfortunate'' but "always a risk during complex combat situations''.

Dr Coleman, responding to the release of the findings of the Defence Force's Court of Inquiry this afternoon, said the deaths of five soldiers in two incidences in August were "tragic''.

He commended the "courage and professionalism'' of soldiers involved in the Battle of Baghak on August 4, in which two soldiers were killed by enemy fire and two others were injured as a result of friendly-fire.

"The reality is that while unfortunate, [injury as a result of friendly-fire] is always a risk during complex combat situations,'' Dr Coleman said.

"Afghan lives were saved that day due to the actions of New Zealand troops. The inquiry found no evidence that our people killed or wounded any Afghan National Security Forces personnel.''

Dr Coleman said the deaths in Afghanistan were "a very tragic and difficult time for the Defence Force and for New Zealand''.

"Today's release of the inquiry will be difficult for the families who continue to mourn their loved ones.''

FAMILIES SEE FOOTAGE

The families of the two soldiers who died in the fierce battle in Afghanistan were shown the footage of the firefight in which their loved ones died.

Jack Durrer, the grandfather of Lance Corporal Durrer, says the findings of a Court of Inquiry into the deaths of his grandson and his comrade Lance Corporal Rory Malone has given the family a clearer picture of what happened in Afghanistan.

The Defence Force flew the family up to Wellington and put them and the Malone family up in a hotel overnight to go through the Court of Inquiry report.

They were briefed separately, before going through the findings together.

The families were also shown footage taken from a surviving soldier's helmet camera which showed the chaos of the Battle of Baghak firefight on August 4 last year.

"We even talked to the boys who were there, and they gave us a good picture of things,'' said Mr Durrer, who lives in Christchurch.

"There is always something missing, but with that, and the film which showed the firing just didn't stop, you realise what it was really.

"Once we saw those pictures, and all the firing that was done, and the noise, it was something that brought it all to life for us. It helped us understand what happened a bit more.''

Mr Durrer was relieved that his grandson and Lance Corporal Malone were not killed by friendly fire, which injured two other comrades.

"They looked at all the bullets and said no friendly fire was involved.

"We're quite happy with what came out of it. Their training was all right. One of the majors was hurt, and the sergeant from the LAV (light armoured vehicle), was hurt too. And the young fellows took over from there. That was one of the bright lights for us.''

Mr Durrer said the military didn't say if lessons had been learned, but he hoped there had.

"You can always learn. I don't think they expected so much fighting when they went in there,'' he said.

The Durrer family will bury Pralli's ashes on the first anniversary of his death at Wairoa in Hawkes Bay after a military ceremony at Linton Camp.

"It'll be something special,'' Mr Durrer said.

ATTACK TIMELINE:

August 4, 2012

2am: Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) begin a search and seizure operation of a bomb-maker in Baghak village, north-east Bamiyan Province.

6am: During the arrest, the NDS come under attack from local insurgents, suffering one casualty.

7.30am: NDS attacked again, with one soldier killed and 6 wounded. Afghan troops evacuate one of the wounded to Do Abe base, north of Baghak.

8am: NZ troops at Do Abe and Romero bases, north of Baghak, made aware of the attack, and send three patrols of humvees and light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) to support NDS.

9.45am: NZ patrols arrive at Baghak, help evacuate wounded and dead.

10.38: NZ sends out a dismounted patrol to clear the surrounding area. They are told to be aware of NDS troops to avoid blue (NZ)-on-green (Afghan) battles. A fourth NZ patrol arrives.

12.27pm-12.39pm: NZ troops come under attack from insurgents with AK-47s and hunting rifles. Lance Corporal Rory Malone is shot and killed, and six are wounded. Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer is also shot. Two NZ soldiers are believed to be wounded by friendly fire. Four NDS are also wounded by insurgent gunfire.

2.26pm: Most of the NZ casualties are evacuated by US Army helicopters.

3.58pm: The last two soldiers are airlifted from the site. Corporal Durrer dies during the trip.

4.05pm: Another NDS member is killed. Sixteen insurgents are seen leaving the region carrying dead and wounded. Five insurgents have been killed in total, and the bomb-maker in the original mission has been arrested.

7.30pm: All NZ patrols have re-gathered and begin to return to base.

August 5, 2012

4.30am: All NZ troops arrive back at Do Abe and Romero bases.

- APNZ

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