Jonathan Milne

Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Desperate bid to revive Kiwi soldier

The SAS keep fighting as medics try to save one of their own and copter rushes to help.

The Kiwi SAS risked all for their fatally injured mate as helicopters arrived for the evacuation. Photo / Jerome Starkey
The Kiwi SAS risked all for their fatally injured mate as helicopters arrived for the evacuation. Photo / Jerome Starkey

The SAS trooper killed in a firefight in Afghanistan is a married father of two children, the Herald on Sunday has been told.

The soldier was shot in the chest after New Zealand's crack commando unit staged a rescue operation to save British and Nepalese hostages in Kabul.

He was believed to have been killed by an armour-piercing 50-calibre bullet - four times heavier than a standard rifle bullet.

A friend of the family last night said the man's wife was grieving. "She is doing the best she can do for anyone who has lost their husband."

The friend said the man was a warm and generous spirit. "He is a person who would do anything for anybody. He would be doing a job and drop anything to help you."

The New Zealand Defence Force have said the man's name would not be released until tomorrow.

A spokesman also refused to discuss what financial arrangements would be made for the man's dependants. "We wish to discuss these with the family first."

The Kiwi was part of a 16-strong elite force that answered an SOS call when Taleban insurgents disguised in burkas staged a suicide attack and raid on the compound.

The SAS troops freed three British workers and two Nepalese soldiers while the Afghan Crisis Response Unit fought off around a dozen heavily-armed Taleban.

Freelance journalist Jerome Starkey, who arrived at the compound two hours after fighting began, saw a silver Land Cruiser speed out of the compound and stop in front of it. He initially thought the injured Kiwi soldier who was lifted out and laid on the ground had been only slightly injured.

"And then I just saw the rhythmic movement of someone doing CPR on the body and, to be honest, if you see CPR it's desperate. That immediately said to me that the guy was already dead. That I'd misinterpreted their calm demeanour and it wasn't because the guy was stable, it was because the guy was already dead."

He said: "To be honest, they tell you here that CPR is like dead man's crutches. It's just something they do often to make the other soldiers feel good, to show that they're doing everything they can to save someone, even when they know it's pointless."

A US Army Black Hawk helicopter arrived five minutes later and the man's Kiwi SAS comrades helped carry him to it, while the chopper's American crew covered them.

"Two US Black Hawk helicopters swooped in. They landed on a roundabout, which is about 400m from the British Council building," said Starkey.

"When they came in, the force of the helicopter pushed up a huge cloud of dust. There was a moment, while they were on the ground, that the dust cleared ... there's at least two Kiwis who are at the helicopter, beckoning people on. My assumption is that the person who I saw injured was in fact already dead." The NZ Army says the man died en route to a hospital, thought to be the French-run Role 3 hospital at Kaia air base.

In Kabul, the SAS continued the pursuit even after losing one of their number.

With SAS backing, more than 1000 Afghan police and commandos surrounded the compound in the northern suburb.

It took 9 hours to dislodge and kill the final attacker. Two female teachers survived the attack by spending five hours hiding inside a panic room as the firefight raged outside.

One crisis response unit member also lost his life in the incident. In total there were nine deaths, including four insurgents.

Taleban insurgents launched the dawn raid on the 92nd anniversary of Britain leaving the country, and Kiwi troops had been on high alert.

Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the SAS knew a Taleban attack might be coming yesterday. They just didn't know where.

The New Zealand SAS team and the CRU were responsible for counter-terrorism in Kabul, which is why they were called upon.

Prime Minister John Key and a teary-eyed Wayne Mapp, the defence minister, visited the dead man's family yesterday to offer their condolences.

The army has confirmed the dead soldier was not Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Willie Apiata.

Key said it would not deter the army from its commitment to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan.

- Herald on Sunday

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