Kiwis troops in Afghanistan to widen patrols
DANYA LEVY, VERNON SMALL AND OLIVIA CARVILLE
Kiwi troops in Afghanistan are planning changes to their operations after two attacks in less than two days, one of which resulted in the deaths of two soldiers.
Lance corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, who were part of New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan, were killed after their armoured vehicles were attacked on Saturday night (NZ time). Six other New Zealand soldiers were injured.
The Taleban reportedly claimed responsibility for the deaths.
In an attack today, insurgents got within 50 to 100 metres of the New Zealand base, which is on the outskirts of the small mining town of Do Abe.
Prime Minister John Key this afternoon revealed Cabinet had agreed to a request from Defence Force chief Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones for some operational changes to the Kiwi mission in Bamiyan.
"I wouldn't describe them as dramatic changes … but they will include the likelihood that the patrolling area of the New Zealand Defence forces will be widened out slightly," Key said.
There was more insurgent activity and had been a heightened threat assessment in the area "for some years now," he said.
The changes would involve Kiwis in the PRT patrolling outside of the Bamiyan region they have covered for ten years.
Jones believed that was "likely to provide a greater level of protection to our soldiers," Key said.
"The [expanded] radius is all about our capacity to fully understand what's going on and to be in the best position to ensure that we are less likely to be subjected to insurgent activity."
New Zealand has announced a formal withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2013, as part of a wider plan for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to exit the war-torn nation.
Key denied the changes agreed by Cabinet were an expansion of the PRT role. Asked if it was a change, he said: "a slightly wider radius is the way I'd describe it".
"It's not outside of their capacity, in terms of their operational activity in Afghanistan, but it requires the Cabinet to agree to those things."
He confirmed troops in the neighbouring Hungarian-patrolled Baghlan Province did not typically patrol at night.
The families of the two Kiwi soldiers killed in Afghanistan at the weekend say they are proud of their sons' time in the army.
Durrer was from Christchurch and Malone from Auckland.
Both were on their first deployment to Afghanistan.
Malone was helping his company commander, one of the six injured, when he was killed instantly.
"We are all thankful for the 26 years we had with Pralli and are proud of all that he accomplished in his short time with us,'' said Durrer's family, in a statement.
''He has had a rewarding career as a soldier and we know he had a positive effect on all those he worked alongside throughout his time with [the] NZ Army.''
Durrer's family had gathered together to support one another through his "sudden" death.
His grandfather said the soldier's mother died more than a decade ago, his father was "not around" and he had been raised by his aunt in Christchurch.
Malone's family said they were also extremely proud.
''Rory went to Afghanistan to do what he considered an important job which contributed to the greater good of the region. He did his job with honour and pride. Rory will be dearly missed by his family.''
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said it was a tough time for all families, and the families of the deceased could be proud of their service record.
He said the Government was not looking to send the SAS back to Afghanistan. That would only happen if there was a major change in the situation in Bamiyan.
Jones said the men's bodies were at the Bagram US air base near Kabul and would be brought home as soon as possible.
The names of six wounded soldiers would not be released at this time, Jones said. One, shot in the neck, had been evacuated to one of the best military hospitals in Germany, he said.
Jones said New Zealand could be proud of its efforts to boost schools and hospitals.
Locals appreciated the New Zealanders' work and were insulted by the attack by insurgents.
The dead and departing soldiers would be replaced, Jones said.
Jones said the attack today, which happened just before midnight Afghan time, involved about 10 insurgents, "who closed in ... and opened fire with small arms and with rockets into our site".
"We responded with fire and we also deployed down from the (nearby forward base at) Romero site a reinforcement patrol," he said.
"We estimate this attack was to show that despite the injuries and casualties we caused on their first insurgent group, this - a second insurgent group - launched this attack to show that they were still around in the area.
"It did not cause any casualties, nor any significant damage to our patrol base."
After slightly less than an hour the insurgents broke off the attack.
Jones said such attacks were normally aimed at Afghan national police forces in the area.
"We assess this as really just a show of force."
Local police, stationed on the high hills around the base, were trained "at the lower-level tasks".
During the night they largely stayed in their camps, so "their ability to provide security for us around there is lesser than during the day".
Jones said the attackers occupied positions around the base and fired into it.
They did not try and capture the base or overrun it.
"They were largely firing for the sake of making a noise - firing hoping to cause some casualties."
New Zealand troops used night vision equipment to fire back. They did not know if the insurgents had suffered any casualties.
Patrols would go out to look, once daylight arrived.
- © Fairfax NZ News