Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

The shambles that left two NZ soldiers dead

Peter Page was wounded in friendly fire in an Afghanistan firefight last year that claimed two New Zealand lives. His opinion of how the New Zealand Army acted on August 4 is at odds with the army’s official findings, and contradicts much of what his comrades say. But Page, referred to as Soldier F in this week’s Court of Inquiry report, believes the real story of what happened that day has not yet come out. He left the army this year angered by the way he had been treated. His decision to break ranks was not taken lightly. We believe he has earned the right to express his view of that tragic day’s events. This is his story.

"We were unprepared. We lacked command and control, which led to many things going wrong. We rushed into the task unnecessarily. We lacked a plan and someone to co-ordinate it.

"We were told the Afghan National Directorate of Security (the NDS, the Afghan version of the CIA) had been attacked that morning not far from forward operating base Doabe, and that Kiwi patrol K2 with members of K3 were tasked by Major Craig Wilson to move to the contact site from forward operating base Romero in order to conduct a tactical scene exploitation (TSE), basically a crime scene investigation."

Page says such crucial instructions, like what to do if his patrol came under fire, were lacking.

"The information is very important as it makes it clear in everyone's mind what we will do in these situations, because once you're in contact there is little opportunity for the commander to inform everyone what to do or to co-ordinate with other patrols.

And potentially the commander can be killed in the initial part of the contact."

Page says the commanders were "way more aggressive compared to the commanders I had served with on my previous tour to Afghanistan".

Page was attached to K2, based at Romero and under Lt B. "We left that morning, first to drop off a medical team and then to marry up with K4 who were on their way to the contact site. It became obvious we weren't going to be conducting any checks for improvised explosive devices - stopping at places of interest to physically check for wires and explosives by the road side, using hand-held detectors, before proceeding. Vulnerable Point checks are standard operating procedures; to ignore them is highly irresponsible.

"Soon after we dropped the medical team off in Doabe we married up with K4, a Humvee patrol that has four vehicles, near Baghak. It was obvious there had been a firefight here because you could see patches of blood and expended cartridges on the road side. However, it appeared the enemy was long gone.

"It felt unnerving parking our vehicles right in the position where the NDS had been attacked. There was steep terrain either side of the road that were ideal places for the enemy to ambush from."


The K2 commander ordered patrols to fire speculative fire out to the east in the direction of the most likely enemy threat. Page says spec fire was only supposed to be used if a unit had been shot at and had good reason to believe the fire was from a specific place. In nine years, he had never seen it used.

"There was no enemy response. This would have antagonised the enemy who were still in the area. The commanders were eager to fire."

Page was one of 12 men to head up to the eastern side of the valley, in the direction insurgents hurt in the earlier firefight were thought to have retreated. One of the team, Corporal Luke Tamatea, told them what one of the NDS had told him when they first arrived at the scene. The NDS had been at a house nearby when they were attacked. They were having a work function and were off-duty. There were five or six insurgents but the NDS had repelled the attack, capturing one, possibly killing another and causing the rest to retreat into the hills.

Page was told to take off his body armour and helmet to move quickly up the steep terrain. "It looked exposed from all directions up there. There was not much cover and the terrain was too steep to fight from."

Page asked Sgt M, patrol commander from K4, if they could fly a drone to survey the terrain. He was told it had been left at Doabe.

"This was unbelievable to me. The [drone] was purchased for us for situations just like this. It could have easily identified insurgents lying in wait to ambush us."

American planes were brought in to put on a show of force. Then Page and the patrol headed up the valley. As they advanced, other Kiwi soldiers again let off spec fire.

"This is definitely not normal procedure, but there is a gung-ho attitude. I begin to think all we are doing is letting everyone in the valley know where we are and what our intentions are. I'm not happy about how things are going. The terrain is actually worse than it had looked from below and one of my mates is almost wiped out by a large falling rock."

Page saw another patrol, K3, coming towards the contact site from the direction of Doabe. His patrol were surprised by this.

"We are informed that the OC Major Wilson has arrived with K3 and is taking over battlefield command. Again this is a surprise to us all because we were unaware that he would be coming out and also because he has rarely left FOB Romero to come out on task. He usually remains in Romero and gives his orders over the radio directly to the senior battlefield commander.

"Just a few days earlier, Major Wilson had briefed the company, saying that he wasn't happy with the orders he was getting from higher commanders and that he believed we should be taking it to the enemy the same way he had done whilst serving with the SAS. He said he was used to being on the winning team, the team that scored the most tries ... He then went on to say that he wouldn't let them get away with it next time. So we were of the opinion Major Wilson had some offensive-type operation in mind and that that was the reason he had shown up."


Page's patrol continued up the valley, and one radioed in their location to prevent blue-on-blue - a friendly fire incident. They were told an NDS patrol was crossing the river and going to move up the hill to provide them support.

"We we are just short of our objective when shots are heard in the valley. Someone yells out the enemy is down there - he's pointing down where the NDS are. I could see them being shot at from the direction of the front vehicles in the patrol. There was confusion as to whether they are NDS or the enemy. There was no way they could have been the enemy. We had seen them walk past the New Zealand vehicles that were at the rear of the parked convoy. And we received a message over the radio that they were coming up to help us.

"We turn our attention to the vehicles in the middle and rear of the convoy. They are shooting in a different direction, to the north. We can see their rounds impacting to the high ground to the north and the north east. We focus our attention on these positions and begin trying to locate the enemy with our sights. Half of the patrol under Tamatea continues up the hill to the top to cut off possible fleeing enemy. We are left to provide fire support to the men on the ground. Although we can see where the guys on the road are shooting, we don't see the enemy.

"Unbeknown to us, K1 [a NZ patrol of three LAVs, light armoured vehicles] had been on a different task that morning but were redirected to provide back-up for our task. It is standard operating procedure to inform everyone if the plan has changed and other patrols have been sent to assist the task. The actions on contact need to be updated now that there is another element to the operation. This was ignored."

Page says K1, under the lead of Lt E, were told enemy forces were on the eastern side of the valley.

"As a result, some of the soldiers from K1 fired random shots out to the eastern high ground as they approached the contact site. They believed that anything east of the road was fair game. The commanders of K1 allowed their men to fire randomly out to the east without identifying their targets when there is an obvious risk of blue-on-blue, not to mention allowing them to ignore rules of engagement that state you are only allowed to use deadly force to protect yourself, friendly forces and civilians from an identified, immediate and deadly threat."

Page remained with the second half of the dismounted patrol, under the command of Corporal H.

"Soon after the initial contact we started receiving sporadic fire from the north. We quickly looked for cover, which was limited due to the exposed terrain. Soon after that, we started receiving a rapid rate of fire, quickly followed by machine-gun fire from the west.

"There was no suitable cover there, so we ran towards a large rock outcrop. The fire from the west intensified and I was shot in the leg. Soon after, high-explosive rounds came in, exploding everywhere. This was extremely terrifying and I thought my mates and I were goners. We realise the fire is from the NZ troops at the road. We immediately radio them to cease fire. About 20 seconds later, the fire ceases.

"It is chaos where we are. No one knows where to go to find protection. It feels very exposed and we are not feeling safe. We soon learn that a couple of us have moderate wounds, but most have minor shrapnel wounds. We feel betrayed by the people who shot at us, especially considering there was no enemy anywhere near our position. It was unbelievable this mistake could have happened, as we could easily identify the troops by the roadside, so they should have been able to identify us when looking through their rifle scopes to identify their target.

"We later learn that K1 is responsible. This is the first time that we learn K1 is a part of this operation.

"Since then, the members from K1 that were involved have said they were receiving intense fire at the time and didn't have the option to identify their targets. I don't accept this. They were in armoured vehicles and if the fire is intense it is procedure to drop down into the vehicle and close the hatches for protection, and then to use the 25mm cannon to fire at the enemy from within the vehicle. The NZLAV has excellent protection from small-arms fire. Basically you can fire an AK47 at the vehicle all day long and the occupants inside are safe. These are the reasons the government paid millions for the vehicles. Not to use these vehicles as they were intended is irresponsible. This came down to a cowboy-type mentality that was prevalent in this patrol."


"After I was wounded, we waited in position for helo medical evacuation. W and I were to be winched off the hill as the terrain was too steep and dangerous to carry casualties back down to the road. We had to wait for the more seriously wounded troops to be evacuated first.

"About three hours later, we start receiving a high rate of high explosive and heavy machine-gun rounds. The rounds are impacting on the rocky outcrop we are using for cover. We look down on the road and see that it it is K3 who are firing at us. We get on the radio and tell them to cease fire, you are firing at friendlies. The fire ceases and K3 report back to us saying they were shooting at a sniper. We tell them there is no enemy anywhere near our position. We ask them if they know where we are. They say they do.

"I have since talked to the members of that patrol. They say they had no idea where we were exactly, and it wasn't until the helo was winching us up that they realised where we were. It was difficult for us to comprehend how, after three hours, they still haven't located our position, even though we had given our grid reference several times ... We completely lost trust in the other patrols."


Page was taken to a hospital at Bagram Air Force base, where he spoke to a more senior soldier. From conversations then, and his recollection of the events of the day, he becomes convinced the firefight started after Kiwi troops attacked friendly NDS forces.

"We were waiting to be transported to Germany. [He] was very upset ... He asked me if I had got any kills. I replied, 'No, I didn't even see the enemy.' He tells me ... it was like a 'turkey shoot'.

"The army is saying that the wounds were caused by an AK-type weapon and an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] so it must be the enemy. However, the NDS carry those same weapons.

"It could well be they [the two Kiwis] were killed by insurgents but we will never know for sure. What we do know is the NDS fired at Kiwi soldiers as a result of Kiwi soldiers engaging them first."

Page was sent back to Burnham army base in Christchurch to recover from his leg wound. He put in a request to appear before the court of inquiry.

"They just repeated that friendly fire is normal and they are happy the right procedures were carried out."

He laid a complaint with his Defence Force psychologist, and he was asked to meet Land Component chief Brigadier Mark Wheeler.

Wheeler disagreed with everything he had to say, he says, repeating that friendly fire is normal and, in the situation, understandable due to the fog of war. The right procedures were followed and the commanders performed well.

"Brigadier Wheeler kept repeating over and over again that Major Wilson is the most distinguished soldier in the Defence Force and is ex-SAS."

The day before he left the army, Page says, he was asked to make another statement to the court of inquiry. The interview was recorded and he was sent a transcript.

"I notice that certain things I said were missing, and that critical parts have been written in a way that is confusing and doesn't make sense. I need to get to the airport soon to catch my flight so I quickly make the corrections. I sign, scan and send it back to them."

This led to a stand-off where the Defence Force consulted lawyers and Page refused to sign the amended statement.

Now, Peter Page has moved overseas. "I just want to start a new life, but can't move on until this issue is resolved."

- Herald on Sunday

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