NZ soldier killed, two hurt in Afghanistan

Lt-Gen Jerry Mateparae said the soldiers were on a routine patrol. Photos / NZDF, NZPA
Lt-Gen Jerry Mateparae said the soldiers were on a routine patrol. Photos / NZDF, NZPA

A New Zealand soldier has been killed and two others injured in an attack on a routine patrol in Afghanistan, the Defence Force announced today.

A local interpreter with the patrol was also injured during the attack, which took place about 12.30am New Zealand time.

The dead soldier - New Zealand's first combat casualty in Afghanistan - was based in the town of Bamyan, in Bamyan Province. He was serving with the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team.

At a media conference this morning, head of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae paid tribute to the soldier.

"On behalf of the New Zealand Defence Force we extend our sincere condolences to the family of this brave New Zealander."

Lt-Gen Mateparae told reporters the Defence Force was still gathering facts about what had happened.

"Three New Zealand vehicles which made up the patrol came under a complex attack by as yet unknown assailants," he said.

"We believe that an improvised explosive device or IED was detonated and then the patrol came under fire from two positions with rocket-propelled grenades and other small arms fire."

He said the two soldiers were seriously hurt but that their injuries were not considered life-threatening.

Lt-Gen Mateparae did not identify the soldiers.

"We are in the process of informing and supporting the families of those killed and injured," he said. "We will be giving the families some time to come to terms with events".

Lt-Gen Mateparae said the Defence Force was trying to get the deceased and wounded soldiers back to New Zealand "as expeditiously as possible".

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said the attack showed "the dangers faced by our defence people everyday in Afghanistan".

"The Provincial Reconstruction Team has been been working to assist the people of Bamyan province but it remains a dangerous place especially in the place where this attack occurred on a New Zealand patrol in the north-east."

Mr Mapp said he sent his aroha to the family of the dead soldier and the two wounded.

In Vanuatu, Prime Minister John Key told media the attack involved 10 to 12 soldiers and three cars on patrol. He said it took place about half an hour after the soldiers had visited a neighbouring village.

The attack was in the north-eastern corner of Bamyan in an area where skirmishes were not uncommon and there had been heightened attacks and a "degree of anxiety".

"It wasn't possible to get air support services to give them cover because the weather was too bad at the time. We don't know exactly what's caused the death and injury and I wouldn't want to speculate until we had some better information."

Mr Key said he had been woken and informed of the attack about 1.30am.

Mr Key said he had spoken with the mother of the dead soldier and passed on his condolences to her.

He said he would not go into details of the conversation but the woman had asked to pass on her regards to the families of the injured soldiers.

"I think that shows extraordinary bravery and courage on her part and shows the strength of the wider military family."

Mr Key said the injured soldiers had primarily suffered burns and cuts and that one had a leg injury. They are receiving medical treatment in Afghanistan.

Mr Key said the military was reviewing its procedures, tactics and equipment for Bamyan but that he did not see the incident as a reason to withdraw from the province, or from Afghanistan.

In an earlier statement, Mr Key sent his condolences to the family of the dead soldier.

"This is New Zealand's first combat loss in Afghanistan and reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the province," Mr Key said.

"It is with enormous sadness that I acknowledge that this soldier has paid a high price and my thoughts are with his family and the families of the injured."

Labour leader Phil Goff said the soldier's death was a sad reminder that defence personnel put their lives at risk.

"Our thoughts and sympathy are with the family of the soldier who was killed and on behalf of the Labour Party I offer them our sincere condolences," Mr Goff said.

"I know that there will be deep sadness right across the New Zealand Defence Force at the loss of one of their own, and that the NZDF will also give every support they can to the families of those who have been affected," he said.

Mr Goff's nephew died in Afghanistan while serving with the US Army.

Green Party Defence Spokesman Keith Locke said he was saddened by the death and also sent his condolences to the families of the men and the NZDF.

"We are proud of the good peacekeeping and reconstruction work that our Provincial Reconstruction Team has done in Bamian Province, and we mourn the loss of one of its members."

The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team

The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team's (NZPRT) headquarters in the province is Kiwi Base. To the south is the airfield while the main township and bazaar are located to the north of the base.

The sixteenth rotation of the (NZPRT), commanded by Colonel John Boswell arrived in Afghanistan in April and were expected to remain in the country for about six months.

John Key visited Bamyan earlier this year, and the Government has announced that the NZPRT will extend their secondment until September 2011.

The force works on maintaining security in Bamyan Province, and carries out frequent patrols throughout the area.

It also supports the provincial and local government by providing advice and assistance to the Provincial Governor, the Afghan National Police and district sub-governors.

The NZPRT also identifies, prepares and provides project management for NZAID projects within the region.

It consists of four liaison (LNO) teams supported by infantry, engineers, staff officers, communications and logistic staff.

The first NZPRT deployment to Afghanistan departed in August 2003 on a four month rotation.

New Zealand also has a small number of Special Air Service personnel serving in Afghanistan. In total New Zealand has approximately 140 personnel in Bamiyan and about 80 SAS soldiers in Kabul.

- NZPA, Derek Cheng, NZHERALD STAFF

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