Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Defence force reject SAS revenge attack claims

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Defence Force has rejected claims SAS troops have been sent to Afghanistan to carry out a revenge attack over the deaths of five New Zealand soldiers in August.

The response follows a report by Radio New Zealand's Afghanistan correspondent Jon Stephenson that a group of SAS soldiers had gone to the country to carry out a retaliation attack.

Mr Stephenson said sources from within the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and the New Zealand SAS community had confirmed the attack.

"I've been told that the mission of these troops is not to gather intelligence but to help carry out the strikes or the raids on those insurgents that killed the PRT soldiers in August,'' Mr Stephenson is reported saying.

The Defence Force, Prime Minister and Defence Minster rejected the claim.

"As announced in September by this year the Prime Minister a small number of NZ SAS personnel have been sent to Kabul to help gather intelligence on the insurgents in the Bamiyan region but are not in a combat role,'' said a Defence Force statement.

John Key flatly denied the claim, saying there were no more than "four or so'' SAS personnel in Afghanistan and they were providing non-combat support for other countries' troops.

He said there was no evidence the group had engaged in combat.

"If the chief of Defence Force decided he wanted a change of heart and put them into a combat-orientated role then he would have to get a mandate from the Government and no mandate's's been sought.''

"I think that they're doing exactly what we sent them to do, which is to help with logistics and planning,'' he said.

Mr Key said the Government had been as transparent as it could be about the SAS's involvement in Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman echoed Mr Key's comments.

"No group has been deployed to Afghanistan for a combat mission, so what the Prime Minster says is correct,'' said a spokesman for Dr Coleman.

According to the RNZ report, Mr Stephenson said the troops would be in addition to the ones Mr Key said had been sent to gather intelligence.

He said he had been told they would be playing an "active part in the hunt'' for the insurgents responsible for the deaths of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) members Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris, Corporal Luke Tamatea, and Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer in two separate incidents.

New Zealand's SAS force of about 70 personnel was withdrawn earlier this year.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 22 Oct 2014 07:24:22 Processing Time: 499ms