Airstrike may follow soldiers' deaths

  • 20/08/2012

The Defence Force has laid out a plan for possible retaliation, following the deaths of three Kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan.

Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, died instantly when a Taliban bomb blew up their Humvee armoured vehicle.

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones says New Zealand will be supporting Afghan police in tracking down the bomb makers – and an air strike may be carried out against those responsible.

“Possibly one of the actions they need to take is a strike, but the ISAF Special Forces will be the ones who would undertake that," says Lt Gen Jones.

“We might be contributing intelligence and some planning support, depending on how that intelligence or how that support is provided.”

L/Cpl Baker is New Zealand’s first female soldier killed in action since the Vietnam War.

The attack, which happened on Sunday morning Afghanistan time, happened almost two weeks to the day following the deaths of L/Cpls Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer.

The pair were killed in a fire fight in the same area.

Prime Minister John Key is reassuring the soldiers’ families that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.

“Our thoughts are also with the courageous members of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team, currently serving in Afghanistan, as they try to deal with the blows they have endured over recent weeks with the tragic loss of five of their teammates.”

Mr Key says the timing of the withdrawal of New Zealand troops from Afghanistan will not be affected by the recent deaths.

At a press conference this afternoon Lt Gen Jones extended his deepest sympathies to the families of those lost.

“Ours is a dangerous profession, and while we accept these risks the death of colleagues and friends is always difficult to take, particularly coming so close following the 4 August incident where we lost two soldiers.”

These latest deaths bring the total number of Kiwi soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 10.

Bodies to come home ‘as quickly as possible’

“The Defence Force is working to return our fallen soldiers to their families as quickly as possible,” Lt Gen Jones said.

“We are also providing support to the families of the personnel involved, as well as support to families with loved ones currently serving in Afghanistan, and to our Units and personnel back in New Zealand.”

Lieutenant General Jones adds that the NZDF remains committed to ensuring a smooth and measured handover of responsibility to Afghan authorities, saying New Zealand “should be proud of our contribution in Bamyan and so too the families of those who have been killed in the service of New Zealand in Afghanistan”.

“Their sacrifice has not been in vain.”

Trio would have died instantly - Key

“Today’s events underscore the gravity of the situations New Zealand’s soldiers face daily in Afghanistan. The three brave soldiers paid the ultimate price for their selfless work, and my thoughts are with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones,” says Prime Minister John Key.

“It was a very, very large explosion. They would have certainly died instantly"

Who were the soldiers?

Cpl Tamatea joined the NZDF in February 2000, having served in Afghanistan since 2007. His latest deployment started this year.

Lance Cpl Baker joined as a medic in April 2007 and was promoted a year later. She had also served in the Solomon Islands.

Private Harris joined the army in February 2009 and had previously served in Timor.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, however Lt Gen Jones says the ‘bomb maker’, who was the target of the last mission, has not been found.

“We are still trying to track that group.”

Labour: Withdraw our troops ASAP

The deaths have renewed calls from the Labour Party to bring the soldiers home, with Labour Party leader David Shearer saying it is clear we are not going to win the war.

“That is something the Afghan people need to do for themselves,” he says.

“The question really is how do we get out, I think as soon as practicable, without cutting and running and leaving more instability behind us.”

But Mr Shearer says withdrawal of the troops would need to be an “orderly transition”.

“What we don’t want to do is undo all that good work by just cutting and running,” he says.

“But I would have thought that transition now should be sooner rather than later.”

NZ troops “likely” to be home by April 2013 - Key

New Zealand troops are likely to be out of Afghanistan by April next year, Mr Key said at his post-Cabinet press conference today.

Logistical issues with other coalition partners means an earlier date of withdrawal is on the cards.

“We’ve been considering this option of when we want to withdraw,” he says.

“The issue is either the latter part of 2013, more September-ish, but there is also a date

on the table around more Aprilish and Cabinet’s preference is more around April.

“We are two weeks away from making that final decision…April is likely to be the date.

“There is a reason that means a later date is not possible, even if we wanted to stay longer and we don’t necessarily want t stay longer,” the Prime Minister says.

Taliban ‘targeting foreigners’

A New Zealand journalist in Kabul, Jon Stephenson, says the soldiers killed could be part of a Taliban plan to oust foreigners from the country.

He says the Taliban have said they are doubling their attempts to expel foreign soldiers whose countries contribute to the coalition in Afghanistan.

"There's some suggestion, speculation at this stage which hasn't been confirmed, that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, has recently called on...the public of those countries to pressure the governments to withdraw troops, just like the French public did after the deaths of five French soldiers earlier this year in a province near Kabul."

A former British Commander, Colonel Richard Kemp, says New Zealand shouldn't be surprised if there's more Taliban action to come.

“The Taliban throughout the country are intending to step up the pace of their operations, they know that NATO forces are planning to withdraw in 2014, they want to be seen to give NATO forces and their allies a bloody nose,” says Mr Kemp.

Mr Kemp says special forces may now be needed in the future.

New Zealand has 145 soldiers serving in three bases in Afghanistan.

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