SAS troops won't return to Afghanistan

FALLEN: Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance Corporal Rory Malone.
FALLEN: Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance Corporal Rory Malone.

Prime Minister John Key says an SAS liaison officer is likely to be sent into Afghanistan but the elite combat troops will not be dispatched.

About 35 Special Air Services troops based in the capital Kabul came home in March, but the issue of whether they would be sent back has been raised after two New Zealand soldiers were killed by insurgents at the weekend in the Bamiyan province where the 140-strong Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) is deployed.

Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone were killed when they came under fire from a group of insurgents near Do Abe on Saturday night.

Six other New Zealand soldiers were wounded in the attack.

The two men's bodies will arrive in New Zealand tomorrow.

They left Afghanistan yesterday, following a moving farewell from their military colleagues.

Key today said he had discussed with the Defence Force Chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones whether the PRT would be safer if the SAS was returned to Afghanistan.

"His view is that sending the SAS back wouldn't actually add much to what's happening there. We have thoroughly gone through the process of whether returning the SAS would make sense, we generally don't think it would."

The Defence Force was confident in its combat capability in Bamiyan, he said.

However, an SAS liaison person may go into Afghanistan.

It wouldn't be in a combat role, Key said. But the security clearance the SAS had provided advantages such as greater access.

"But otherwise there won't be any return of the SAS."

Key said the Defence Force was working on bringing the wounded back to New Zealand as soon as possible.

Five of the six are recovering in a military hospital in Germany and the sixth is back in Afghanistan with abdominal wounds.

Key said there were compression issues around him flying.

Details of the six soldiers injured in the attack were released today.

Jones said all six were men were initially treated in Afghanistan, but five had since been transferred to Landstuhl Regional Military Centre (LRMC) in Germany. The most seriously wounded solider remained in Afghanistan, but was in "good spirits".

"The sixth soldier sustained very serious gun shot wounds to the abdomen and has remained in Afghanistan receiving medical treatment. His condition, while serious, has been described as stable.

"A German surgical team is caring for him at Mazar i Sharif Medical Treatment Facility with the possibility of transferring him to the hospital at Bagram Air Base and then on to LRMC in Germany. He is conscious, alert and in good spirits," Jones said.

He said of the others in Germany, one soldier had had chest surgery at Homburg University Hospital and would be transferred back to Landstuhl Hospital as soon as possible.

Another was to have surgery today to repair a fractured femur. One soldier was on crutches but remained in the hospital ward, while two soldiers who each received shrapnel wounds had already been discharged and were in accommodation on base.

Jones said none of the wounded servicemen were shot in the neck, despite initial reports suggesting one had.

He said the defence force wished them all a "speedy recovery".

A ramp ceremony has been held to farewell the two soldiers who died.

Their contingent performed the haka at a ramp ceremony, which involved the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and soldiers from ally nations, the New Zealand Defence Force said in a statement.

"The Ramp Ceremony provided a solemn send off to our mates and we remembered that they had fought courageously and acted bravely," Lieutenant Colonel Pete Hall said.

"I reminded those of us gathered around the caskets as we bade our final farewells, of the words of Pericles from almost two and a half thousand years ago when he said of the dead Athenian warriors:

"'Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity is for free, and that freedom is the sure possession only of those who have the courage to defend it."

Durrer and Malone fought with courage to protect their fellow soldiers, their Afghan colleagues and the freedom of Afghanistan, Hall said.

Durrer was from Christchurch while Malone was from Auckland. It was their first deployment to Afghanistan.

They had been called in to help local forces after an attempted arrest of an insurgent near Do Abe went wrong.

Two Afghan members of the special police were also killed, and 11 injured in the firefight in the north-east of the region.

The local troops were ambushed early in the morning while travelling and were killed on the side of the road.
As the Afghans tried to retrieve their dead, the New Zealanders were called in to help push back the insurgents and secure the area.

While the New Zealand soldiers were securing the area they came under fire from a separate group of insurgents.