Exclusive: Former Kiwi soldier 'haunted' by deaths under his command

One of New Zealand's most experienced - and controversial - military commanders has spoken out for the first time.

Five soldiers died under Major Craig Wilson's command in Afghanistan, which included the Battle of Baghak - our biggest battle since Vietnam.

Now Mr Wilson has left the Army. He can still wield a gun, but this is a rifleman with a difference.

His right hand was left paralysed after he was hit by a sniper's bullet in the Battle of Baghak in Afghanistan in 2012.

"I've got no right hand function, the fingers don't work," he said.

"It hit me here on my collarbone. And considering I was aiming at the guy, and he's aiming - you know if he hits the centre line I'm dead," Mr Wilson said.  

The bullet struck just centimetres from his heart and instant death.

"He didn't miss by much - it was very close."

Mr Wilson was down - he was dying - and out in the open. He was dragged to safety by Rory Malone, who got killed while saving him.

"Saving me and fighting hard, more than just saving me - saving his other comrades. He just moved and engaged - and fought like a lion in that battle," he said.

Craig Wilson has left the Army, meaning he can now release a book about what happened on the tour to Afghanistan where five people under his command died.

He had a distinguished military career that included commanding an SAS detachment in Afghanistan. He returned to Afghanistan in 2012 with a provincial reconstruction team.  

Two of the PRT, Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer, died in the Battle of Baghak. Luke Tamatea, Richard Harris and Jacinda Baker died in a subsequent bomb attack.

As a combat leader, he was responsible for five people not coming home.

"And if that doesn't haunt you, there's something probably wrong with you," Mr Wilson said.

He's haunted - and questioned and criticised by some for being too gung-ho on the tour of duty, including leading troops into the valley at Baghak.

He says they killed two or three insurgents at Baghak, and when people say his battle plan was too aggressive, he replies they are wrong.

Mr Wilson's argument is that the Taliban violence had escalated to an extent that a fatal battle was virtually inevitable.

He said criticism is about the goalposts having shifted after the fact, and he doesn't think that is fair.

As for the sniper who hit him, and likely killed Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer?

"I'm pretty sure he perished in the battle," Wilson said, adding that it's likely he was killed by one of his soldiers.

And he does have some regrets.

"I wish I never got shot so I could go and stick it to them a bit more in the battle."

Craig Wilson is still fighting for his troops and his reputation.