Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

NZ soldier wounded in Afghanistan

Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. File photo / APN
Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. File photo / APN

The exchange of gunfire that injured a New Zealand soldier in Afghanistan involved three rounds being fired towards the New Zealander from a lone Afghan soldier.

The "insider'' attack, which occurred in Qargha, near Kabul at about 5.30pm yesterday (Saturday, New Zealand time), occurred as a New Zealand soldier was being escorted from a meeting by two Australian soldiers, said Defence Force chief, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones.

The Kiwi received injuries to his foot.

When describing the attack, Lieutenant General Jones said the trio had been fired on from a lone Afghan soldier who appeared in the space between two buildings.

He opened fire without any warning and there was "no indication of an argument or fighting beforehand,'' he said.

An Australian soldier was hit in the chest, but received only superficial injuries as all three soldiers were wearing full protection gear.

''[The soldier] hit one of the Australian escorts and injured our person. The second Australian returned fire.''

No information had yet been available about the Afghan soldier, other than he had been critically injured, and possibly killed,'' Lieutenant General Jones said.

"After he fired the three rounds, he then stood up and started advancing closer towards the ... Australians and New Zealander. It looked as if he had the intent to continue shooting.''

The decision to shoot the Afghan soldier - who was about 15 metres away from the group - was the correct one in the situation, Lieutenant General Jones said.

The New Zealander was involved with training of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy and had been in Afghanistan for about six weeks, Lieutenant General Jones said.

He had been doing a task in the adjacent Afghan unit and was being escorted by two Australian force protection people when they came under attack.

The sergeant, who the Defence Force would not name, had since spoken with family members in New Zealand.

"He was hit in the foot. Initial assessment is some of the shrapnel - as the bullet hit the chest of the Australian ... the bullet disintegrated - went into the arm of the Australian soldier that was hit. Another part of it went into the foot [of the New Zealander].''

The New Zealand soldier was "doing well'' and his injuries have been classed as Category B, Lieutenant General Jones said.

Afghan forces have been apologetic about the incident, and stress they do not want the attack to compromise trust between New Zealand and local forces, he said.

At this point, the Defence Force would discuss with the New Zealand Government whether the incident highlighted any major problems in Afghanistan.

"Our first look is no. We are comfortable that this was in the procedures and that security issues and events ... and the training seemed to work well. At this stage, the recommendation of the Government would look as if to say this is just one of the risks that we have of operating,'' Lieutenant General Jones said

A decision on whether the injured Kiwi soldier would be brought back to New Zealand "will be based on the medical assessments, as well as our own assessments about how long it would take for him to get fit for duty.''

The Defence Force had also contacted the next of kin of all New Zealanders serving in Afghanistan to notify them their loved ones had not been injured in the attack, Lieutenant General Jones said.

A lot of insider attacks had occurred over the last few years, he said.

While the motivation behind them varied, it was clear some were ideologically driven.

"There are, we have to admit, some insurgents or extremists who come in deliberately with the aim of creating a situation or finding a situation where they can shoot at the coalition forces. But the numbers of these insider attacks have certainly decreased.''

The motivation behind yesterday's attack was unknown. The incident would be investigated, Lieutenant General Jones said.

The Labour Party's defence spokesman, Phil Goff, said the attack highlighted the growing risks of News Zealand's involvement in what had become a civil war.

"The war in Afghanistan today is predominantly a fight between the majority Pashtun Taleban and the Karzai regime, rather than a war against al Qaeda-led international terrorism.

"When the Afghan National Army recruits, it has no idea where the real sympathies of a recruit lie. Increasingly with the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan planned for next year, there will be more and more people who swing their allegiance to the side that seems most likely to win.''

He said insider fire had become an increasing problem for allied forces training the Afghan National Army (ANA), with recruits turning their weapons on those training them.

"It may be the result of a personal slight in some instances. More often it will be Taleban sympathisers infiltrated into the ANA.''

- APNZ

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