The journalist who broke the story of New Zealand special forces joining a counterattack against a Taleban terror strike in Kabul has expressed surprise at the the reaction in this country.

Afghanistan-based New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, in a blog posted to the newspaper's website yesterday, wrote: "New Zealand? At war? Who knew? Not a lot of New Zealanders, apparently."

"The news ... that a team of commandos from New Zealand had joined Afghan soldiers at the scene caused a sensation in the little country off the coast of Australia."

Filkins was one of the first reporters on the scene of the Monday attack, and described his dealings with the Kiwi SAS troops present.

"I spotted the team of New Zealanders as they moved in to Pashtunistan Square, the site of the Taleban attack, which killed five people and wounded at least 70 ...

"'Get out of here,' one said to me. I saw the patch on his arm announcing his country. Others were more friendly.

"'Can't talk now, mate,' another said with a smile." Filkins said his inbox had been flooded with messages from New Zealand the day after his report was published.

In response to the report, Prime Minister John Key confirmed New Zealand SAS troops had been involved in Monday's Kabul battle.

Yesterday he criticised the Herald for running a photograph of two unidentified SAS soldiers patrolling the streets of Kabul afterwards.

"I'm very disappointed about the New Zealand Herald's decision to publish the photograph of New Zealand SAS soldiers. It would have been preferable if they'd taken a decision to black out their faces," he said at a press conference in Auckland. However, he revealed that one of them was Victoria Cross winner Corporal Willie Apiata.

New Zealand Defence Force spokesman Commander Shaun Fogarty said Afghanistan was an "extreme risk environment".

"Any photo of this nature is of concern to the New Zealand Defence Force whether it be Corporal Apiata or anyone else serving there. We are very disappointed."

Herald assistant editor John Roughan said the paper stood by the decision to use the picture which, he said, had real news value.

"The soldiers were in a public street, in a major city, visible to anybody, wearing their uniforms, carrying their guns, photographed as the New Zealand SAS."