Small SAS contingent may return to Afghanistan

Last updated 05:00 23/08/2012

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A plan to send a small contingent of SAS back to Afghanistan comes only months after special forces pressed the Government to leave members of the elite squad there.

It is understood ministers accepted the view of Defence Force Chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones that the SAS should not stay on.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman yesterday said it was an operational matter and no detailed comment would be provided.

"The Government received the advice of the chief of Defence Force and is satisfied with past and present arrangements."

The 35-strong SAS unit pulled out of Kabul in March.

Its members were not part of the provincial reconstruction team, but played a key part in the retribution raid against insurgents responsible for Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell's death in 2010.

Prime Minister John Key on Monday said the SAS could help with intelligence and planning for a counterstrike against those responsible for the death of five Kiwi soldiers this month, but he would not send an SAS fighting unit.

General Jones said any counterstrike was likely to be undertaken by special forces from other countries, probably the United States.

It is understood only one or two SAS soldiers would be sent, mostly to liaise with other countries' special forces.

Meanwhile, Mr Key has confirmed Defence Force officials in Afghanistan approached their American counterparts after Lieutenant O'Donnell's death seeking US mine-resistant (MRAP) vehicles for Bamiyan but were told they were not available.

Lieutenant O'Donnell's Humvee vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED), and three soldiers were killed on Sunday when their Humvee was also hit by an IED.

The bodies of Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris were farewelled from Afghanistan on Tuesday and are due to arrive in Christchurch today. Members of the NZ provincial reconstruction team attended the ramp ceremony at Bagram airbase.

The Defence Force has said no vehicle would have saved the trio.

The Kiwi troops have light armoured vehicles (LAVs) but were using Humvees on Sunday.

Labour yesterday questioned whether New Zealand troops had the protection that they needed.

The Government has given approval for patrols into neighbouring Baghlan province, where the insurgents are based, and Labour spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway asked if the New Zealand troops would operate without MRAPs, "given that American troops need special permission to use Humvees because of their vulnerability to IEDs".

Mr Key said that was an operational matter for the Defence Force.

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Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the troops in Bamiyan had seen "mission creep" into more combat roles, but they had not been given the equipment they needed to do that properly.

But Mr Key said his Government had never declined a request for equipment for use in Afghanistan.

- The Dominion Post

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