Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Comrade backs 'Soldier F'

Heroism and stonewalling by allies revealed in court findings

At least one soldier involved in the "Battle of Baghak" has backed up claims that Kiwis were involved in a friendly fire incident with Afghan forces just before two Kiwi soldiers were fatally shot.

Corporal Peter Page - identified as Soldier F in this month's Defence Force court of inquiry findings - was injured in a friendly fire incident with Kiwi troops.

He spoke out for the first time in last week's Herald on Sunday, saying he believed friendly Afghan forces also engaged in a firefight with Kiwi troops - a claim described as "highly unlikely" by the Court of Inquiry into the tragedy.

It was only after Page raised concerns about the exchange of fire with Afghan forces, that the court of inquiry was re-opened to investigate the possibility Kiwi soldiers fired on troops from the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) on August 4 last year.

In initial media reports, the court of inquiry stated the two soldiers wounded by friendly fire, including Page, were hit by shrapnel from a LAV. But the final report said Page was "likely hit" by small arms projectile, causing gunshot wounds.

The court of inquiry interviewed seven soldiers, two of them for the first time. "Soldier C" gave evidence he had also witnessed the friendly fire incident, known as blue-on-green. Soldier C "recognised" an NDS soldier who fired upon Major Craig Wilson and Lance Cpl Rory Malone.

The report said there was no evidence that Malone or Wilson returned fire.

Tales of heroics and stonewalling from New Zealand's allies are also revealed in the Court of Inquiry findings, which have just been made public. It has emerged Malone was initially shot in the right leg - an injury that was reported but untreated as he continued to help his wounded mates. He was hit by a second fatal shot on his left flank and killed almost instantly.

Lance Cpl Pralli Durrer was shot and given treatment in a light armoured vehicle before being evacuated by American helicopters, but died on his way to a US hospital.

Crucial information was withheld from the Court of Inquiry by their allies. The US did not release mission reports from the helicopter gunships and the court found US air support inadvertently helped the insurgents find cover.

"Evidence suggests that the use of the fast air to drop flares as a show of force may have assisted the insurgents in obtaining cover."

Investigators were not able to interview Afghan forces involved in the firefight. A further complicating factor was Lance Cpl Jacinda Baker's tragic death in an explosion just two weeks later.

Baker had treated the wounded Afghan forces at Forward Operating Base Do Abe after the August 4 contact, and would have had comprehensive knowledge of their injuries.

"Due to lack of access to NDS sources, and the subsequent death of LCpl Baker on 19 Aug 12, the court has not been able to confirm specific details of the nature of injuries relating to the NDS casualties."

A lack of scene examination at the site of the firefight was a "lost opportunity to gain valuable intelligence", the report said.

The Court of Inquiry also backed claims by Page that there was a lack of command. "The command and control of the entire contact on 4 August 2012 was problematic due to the scale of the contact, the involvement of the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), the terrain and the communication systems available."

The "Battle of Baghak" is set to be replicated for future training simulation tools - known as Virtual Battlespace. The report stated it would be used to build a new "Adaptive War Fighting Cell".

Seven soldiers have been recommended for medals for their roles in the battle.

- Herald on Sunday

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