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Apiata likely to remain in Afghanistan – Minister

Friday 22 Jan 2010 5:25 p.m.

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By Emma Jolliff

Corporal Willie Apiata's cover may have been blown by the publication of photos of him serving in Afghanistan, but the Defence Minister says he is likely to complete his tour of duty.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp admits Mr Apiata is now at greater risk of becoming a target of the Taliban.

Mr Apiata was photographed after emerging from a building in Kabul which had been attacked by Afghan troops. Three insurgents inside were killed. 

“Clearly he is identifiable, he's probably the most well known SAS soldier in the entire world, it clearly does impose increased risk for him,” says Mr Mapp.  

No action will be taken against the New Zealand Herald which first published the photo.

Mr Mapp says what is done is done with the photos, but now the Government must look to increase safety procedures in the future.

“The photos are published, it is a reality, the question is how do we deal with procedures going forward,” he says.

French photographer Philip Poupin says he didn't know the soldiers, who appeared to have been in the thick of the fight, were New Zealanders.

“They looked like foreign troops and they were tall and had a specific face, they looked tough and strong so I took these pictures,” He says.

Mr Mapp says Mr Apiata is likely to continue to serve in Kabul even if he may now become a specific Taliban target.

“He potentially is because everyone knows who he is, including our opponents,” he says.

The Defence Minister says Mr Apiata was aware of the dangers, given his hero status, but wanted to be deployed.

“He wanted to go to Kabul, he is a professional soldier in our most elite army unit and he knows the nature of the role,” he says.

Mr Apiata has been in Afghanistan since September, 3 News understands he's part of the first rotation of troops whose tour will be coming to an end late next month. 

3 News

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