SAS attack not 'revenge killing' - Mapp

An attack by the New Zealand SAS which killed a group of Taleban fighters responsible for the death of a Kiwi soldier was not a "revenge killing", says Defence Minister Wayne Mapp.

Mapp last night confirmed the attack, which he said was undertaken to secure the area. The operation was approved by both the Afghan Government and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Last August Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell died after an ambush on his convoy in the northeastern province of Bamiyan on August 3.

Lt Tim O'Donnell
Lt Tim O'Donnell

The SAS responded, with help from the United States and Afghan forces, on August 22. They mounted a counter-attack in neighbouring Baghlan province in which nine insurgents were killed.

The attack was "based on intelligence" that there was insurgence in the area, Mapp told Radio New Zealand this morning.

"The main thing that we are trying to do is actually protect the provincial reconstruction team, so we make it our business to know what is happening in the vicinity of our region, and obviously you would expect us to take action if we had intelligence that indicated operations were likely against us to protect our people.

"I'm clearly accepting that we undertook a mission, and it was to protect our people," Mapp said.

"As much as possible we are not going to wait there to get attacked by insurgence, that frankly would be irresponsible."

Claims that civilians had been killed in the operation had been proven false, Mapp said, and he was satisfied with the investigation into these allegations.

O'Donnell, of Feilding, was serving as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team made up of about 140 Kiwi troops carrying out a mix of aid work and military patrols in Bamiyan province.

He died when a convoy carrying 12 soldiers came under rocket and gunfire from insurgents. Fellow New Zealand soldiers Private Allister Baker and Lance Corporal Matthew Ball were injured in the ambush.

O'Donnell was the first Kiwi war casualty in 10 years.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Decoration for valour while serving as a 25-year-old platoon commander in East Timor in 2008.

The deaths of the Taleban group were reported last August, but this is the first time that New Zealand's special forces have been linked to the attack.

The ISAF reported the day after the attack that two Taleban commanders known to lead attacks on Afghan and coalition forces had been the target of the operation, and the ISAF was confident it would have "a significant disruptive effect on the command and co-ordination of Taleban elements throughout Baghlan province".

About a week later, it was reported that there were concerns civilians had been killed in the attack. An investigation team comprising Afghan and ISAF officials found that several rounds from coalition helicopters had fallen short, missing the intended target and instead striking two buildings.

However, the inquiry concluded that claims of civilian casualties were unfounded.

- Dominion Post with NZPA