Two NZ soldiers killed in ambush
TWO New Zealand soldiers were killed and six injured during an ambush that lasted just a few minutes in Afghanistan yesterday.
Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, told a media conference today that a branch of the Afghan police, the NDS, was attempting to arrest an insurgent when it was ambushed yesterday morning (7pm last night NZST).
Two members of the NDS were killed and seven injured so help was requested from the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT) to help stabilise the situation and evacuate the NDS wounded.
Patrols the NZPRT sent to the area laid down suppressing fire on the insurgents, who were holed up in a compound.
The NDS then cleared the compound while the New Zealand troops moved to secure the surrounding areas.
As they did this they came under fire from a separate group of insurgents.
"Some anti-tank fire was put onto our armoured vehicles, as well as small arms fire - rifles, machine guns - onto our troops," Lt Gen Jones said.
One of the men was killed after an anti-tank rocket hit the armoured vehicle he was in, the other other man was on foot when he was hit by either gunfire or shrapnel.
"We suffered two dead and the remaining six wounded in about a two- to three-minute time frame in that first burst of fire on our forces."
One of the men died instantly and the other died in a helicopter en route to hospital.
Three of the men were seriously injured and were expected to return back to New Zealand.
The other three suffered moderate injuries.
Lt Gen Jones said the six injured were taken to two hospitals in the north of the country. They had all suffered either gunshot or blast injuries.
Australia and the United States had offered to help to facilitate bringing the dead soldiers back to New Zealand. This was yet to be determined.
Lt Gen Jones said further information would likely be released around midday tomorrow.
"We are doing a post-battle debrief to find out what went on and what were the circumstances."
The dead men's names would not be released for another 24 hours to give their families some time to come to terms with their loss.
He was confident the NZPRT had acted appropriately during the mission, saying they were "the best in the world".
"The training standards in New Zealand are equal to anywhere in the world and that's why I can remain confident that our guys were well prepared for it.
"They were three months into their deployment; they were experienced in operating their gear, the response was very good, but the reality is that this is a battle zone."
Lt Gen Jones said the group of insurgents responsible for the ambush had been tracked by coalition forces for some time.
One insurgent had been captured and would probably be handed over to Afghan authorities.
Prime Minister John Key said the deaths would not affect the the date of New Zealand troops' withdrawal from the country.
"We're still working through exactly when that date will be, some time in 2013. It's quite a large logistical exercise... and we've been there for the best part of a decade so it'll be some time before we can do that."
Mr Key said losing the two young men was "an enormous price to pay".
"It reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the province.
"It is with enormous sadness that I acknowledge that these soldiers have paid the highest price. My thoughts are with the family and friends of the two brave soldiers killed and also with the families and friends of those injured."
Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman has offered his condolences to the families of the soldiers killed in action.
"The thoughts of the Government and the people of New Zealand are with the NZDF today. Our thoughts are especially with the families of those who died, and the families of those who were wounded.
"The work the NZDF undertake in this region is dangerous and they have been well trained to respond to these incidents."
The NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team is into its nineteenth rotation in Afghanistan, having arrived there in October 2011.
In May, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said PRT troops were scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Labour Party leader David Shearer, who previously worked for the United Nations in Afghanistan, said the area the two soldiers were killed was one of the most volatile in Bamiyan Province.
"We are very, very saddened to hear of the loss of two lives. Our first thoughts go out to the families of those that were killed and wounded."
The latest deaths did not make him reconsider whether New Zealand troops should remain in the country.
"I think we've got a programme to withdraw over time and I think that's probably the right way to go. Unfortunately it's a dangerous place to work. It's tragic that it's happened towards the end of our programme."
Mr Shearer said the New Zealand contingent was seen as a "model" of how effective a reconstruction team could be.
"We have to acknowledge the great work that our personnel have done in Afghanistan, and in Bamiyan in particular. We have been able to improve of the lives of people through health and education programmes and we've also been able to contribute to the stability and support of the local administration that can take over the running of the province."
The Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei told APNZ the deaths were a "terrible tragedy".
"The Green Party's love goes out to all of the family members of those who were killed and wounded as well.
"We, like the rest of New Zealand are waiting for more information about the details."
Ms Turei said the Provincial Reconstruction Team had been doing very well in Afghanistan and in supporting the community there.
"So this is a real tragedy that this has happened with some of the members of that reconstruction team."