Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Film gives glimpse of deadly chaos

Defence shows court-of-inquiry footage of fatal encounter described as NZ's biggest firefight since Vietnam

The 12-minute battle near Baghak was captured by a soldier's "helmet-cam". Photo / New Zealand Defence Force
The 12-minute battle near Baghak was captured by a soldier's "helmet-cam". Photo / New Zealand Defence Force

The Defence Force has issued footage from a chaotic 12-minute battle described as New Zealand's "biggest firefight since Vietnam" after a court of inquiry released its findings on two deadly incidents in Afghanistan that killed five Kiwis.

The inquiry's report, released yesterday, covered the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team's worst month in the country in its 10-year deployment.

In an unprecedented move, senior Defence officials released personal footage taken by a soldier's "helmet-cam" to illustrate the challenges and confusion of the gun battle in which Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone died on August 4, 2012.

In a second incident on August 19, Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris were killed after their vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

Chief of Army Major General Dave Gawn said the report revealed an intense firefight against "a very wily and clever insurgency".

"With adversaries who seek constantly to end your life, these situations have very few parallels in civilian life."

The incident began at 2am when Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces attempted to arrest a bomb-maker at Baghak village, an operation which New Zealand troops knew nothing about.

Ten hours later, the bomb-maker had been arrested and 90kg of explosives seized but six New Zealand and Afghan troops were dead.

They were killed in an ambush by a group of 16 "hard-core" insurgents and sympathetic tribesmen armed with AK-47s and hunting rifles during a frantic 12-minute gunfight.

Six NZPRT members were wounded - two in friendly fire. The court found that in the confusion of the fight, a New Zealand light-armoured vehicle turned its guns on a dismounted patrol, blowing one of the soldiers off his feet.

General Gawn said the men were "very lucky" to survive.

The court of inquiry report said that no friendly fire was acceptable, but this incident was "understandable" because of the position of enemies and the various New Zealand patrols' lack of situational awareness.

It also said it was a symptom of the "fog of war", or the confusion that occurred during gunfights.

To underline this, General Gawn released footage taken by the helmet camera.

It showed New Zealand troops poised under a sheer cliff and surrounded by the huge din of insurgents and New Zealand LAVs exchanging fire in a nearby valley.

General Gawn said it was not only important for the public to witness the confusion and noise of war, but also the inhospitable, rugged terrain in which the PRT was conducting its operations.

The inquiry included comments from one PRT member, called Soldier F in the report, who said the friendly fire was more extensive and New Zealand soldiers had possibly killed some Afghan troops.

This was not corroborated by other witness statements.

Soldier F has left the Defence Force as a result, with officials saying he was troubled by the incident.

General Gawn also cited moments of heroism during the gunfight. Corporal Malone dragged a soldier to safety before being shot and killed himself.

Two unnamed soldiers were shot while dragging another wounded officer from the road.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said recommendations had been made for bravery medals, but he would not go into detail.

12 minutes of hell, Aug 4, 2012

12.27pm: Three New Zealand vehicle patrols and one dismounted patrol come under fire from insurgents in rugged, mountainous country near Baghak village in the Shikari Valley, northeast Bamiyan, while assisting Afghan forces.

An explosion is heard, and some of the NZ vehicle patrols are shot at by insurgents with AK-47s and hunting rifles, who are on the high ground. A commanding officer is immediately wounded, and picked up by two soldiers, one of them Lance Corporal Rory Malone, and moved to the back of a Humvee.

Lance Corporal Malone gets out of the vehicle and is shot and killed by insurgent gunfire. Another NZ soldier rushes to assist him, and is shot and wounded. He takes cover under a Humvee, without telling other soldiers.

12.29pm: The Humvees begin to move out of the area, still unaware of the soldier under one of them, and leave him exposed on the road and in the line of enemy fire.

Another NZ patrol of LAVs arrives in the area where NZ troops are being fired at, and returns fire. Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer is shot in the chest, but is saved by his body armour. He then realises that his machine-gun ammunition is on fire, and while attempting to deal with it is shot again, fatally.

12.30pm: Another NZ patrol arrives on the scene and sees the wounded soldier lying exposed on the road. After failing to reach him by radio, a second soldier runs to drag him to safety. The second soldier is shot and wounded. A third soldier is also wounded by shrapnel from insurgent fire.

12.33pm: A NZ vehicle patrol mistakenly identifies the dismounted patrol as insurgents and fires at it. A ceasefire is called, but two New Zealand soldiers in the dismounted patrol have been injured by the friendly fire.

12:39pm: The firefight ceases. In 12 minutes, NZ has suffered eight casualties, two of them critical and two of them fatal.

- NZ Herald

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