Three Kiwi soldiers killed in bomb attack
JOELLE DALLY, GLEN SCANLON, PALOMA MIGONE AND DANYA LEVY
Do you think it's time for New Zealand to pull its troops out of Afghanistan?
The family of slain soldier Richard Harris are "shellshocked" over news of his death.
Private Harris was one of three Kiwi soldiers killed by a Taleban bomb in Afghanistan yesterday.
The othrse were Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Corporal Luke Tamatea.
Harris, Baker and Tamatea were helping to escort a fellow patrol member to a doctor when they were killed about 9.20am (Afghanistan time) yesterday.
Harris' aunt, Gaylene Harris, said the close-knit family were ''just devastated''.
''We're a bit in shellshock ourselves,'' she said.
Harris, the youngest of three children, lost his father when he was 2.
''He was the baby of the family,'' she said.
''After last week's [August 4] incident, we just wanted to make sure then that he was safe.
"We were just looking forward to getting him home at the end of his time there.''
She last saw Harris in April, and he was single as far as she was aware.
She said he enjoyed being in the army and saw it as a career. He was also very sporty.
''He's always been very special to the family. He was just such a lovely kid; done everything right; never in any trouble or bother,'' she said.
The family, most from the far north of New Zealand, were gathering at Harris' mother's home in Auckland to wait until they learntd when his body would be brought home, she said.
He would be buried at Piki Te Aroha Marae in Rahiri, Hokianga, beside his father's grave.
The Defence Force said the trio's vehicle, the last in a convoy, a Humvee, was hit by a bomb in Bamiyan.
The soldiers died instantly.
The attack occurred northwest of Do Abe, near where lance corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were killed in a firefight this month.
Tamatea, 31, Baker, 26, and Harris, 21, were on their way to the Romero base, which is 10 to 15 kilometres away by road.
Baker, who was from Christchurch, had a partner in the military. She was one of 10 females in Bamiyan and two more at the Bagram airbase.
She joined the army as a medic and was posted to the Burnham Regional Support Company in April 2007.
She went to the Solomon Islands in 2010 and last year received a Chief of Army Commendation for her professionalism and courage during Exercise Southern Warrior in June 2008.
Tamatea, from Kawerau, joined the army in February 2000 and was went to East Timor in 2001, to the Solomons in 2003 and to Sumatra to help with the tsunami in 2005. Tamatea had also been in Afghanistan in 2007.
Harris, of Pukekohe, who had been driving the ill-fated Humvee, joined the army in February 2009 and had been in East Timor in 2009-10.
Their bodies are expected back towards the end of the week.
Second bomb disarmed
A second bomb was found and disarmed, while the remaining personnel in the patrol secured the location and awaited more support.
The Defence Force has informed next of kin.
It is New Zealand's first female casualty in Afghanistan and the first since the Vietnam War, and the three deaths bring the Afghanistan toll to 10 Kiwis. The Taleban have claimed responsibility.
Prime Minister John Key told a press conference, also attended by Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman and Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, that their ''sacrifice will not be forgotten''.
He said 4.5 million New Zealanders would be mourning today.
He said there were practical issues with dismantling the operation in Afghanistan.
''There is no fast way out. We cannot click our fingers and put them on a plane out tomorrow," he said.
He thought the families of those lost would be shocked if New Zealand ran for the door now.
"If we do that, the thousands who have lost their lives will be in vain."
He said ministers had for some weeks been considering options for an ''orderly withdrawal''.
A decision had yet to be finalised but the withdrawal was likely to take place in the earlier part of 2013, Key said.
The timing had not be affected by loss of five soldiers in the past few weeks, he said.
Coleman said it was ''absolutely gutting'' to be delivering such news again so soon after last week's funerals for Malone and Durrer.
''This is the most terrible day that could ever be visited on loved ones of a service person,'' he said.
Jones said New Zealand should be proud of its contribution in Afghanistan.
Soldiers 'died instantly'
Key said there were three large New Zealand bases with about 150 troops and the soldiers were supporting New Zealand aid workers in the province.
He said the three troops were killed as a result of an "enormous explosion" from a roadside bomb.
"They would have certainly lost their lives instantly."
The troops were travelling in a Humvee but it was such a massive explosion, they would not have be saved if they were in a light-armoured vehicle (LAV), he said.
Humvees were used in areas where LAVs could not travel because of the terrain.
Key said a LAV would have been carrying seven troops, so more people could have been killed if they were not in the Humvees.
The blast was attributed to bombmakers who were part of a new insurgent group the New Zealanders had been targeting.
Key said he was confident the soldiers had the equipment they needed but he would double-check with the Defence Force today.
"Notwithstanding, they are operating in a war zone with some very sophisticated people."
Replacement troops had arrived in Afghanistan after the deaths of Durrer and Malone.
"That was a specialist group because of this increased bombmaking activities we're been aware of."
The three troops died on a road that troops had travelled safely along for years, Key said.
He reiterated his comments that it was unlikely the Special Air Service would be sent back into Afghanistan as a fighting contingent, but an SAS logistics officer was being sent over.
Phil Goff, a former Labour defence minister, said it was not a case of ''cutting and running''.
''It's a case of managing an orderly transition out of Bamiyan which the Government should have been embarking on already."
New Zealand had done everything it could in the province, he said.
"There is nothing further we can do to influence outcomes in Bamiyan or in Afghanistan. To justify sacrifice, you've got to have obtainable objectives,'' he said.
"Things are going backwards in Afghanistan, not forwards. Not because of what our guys are doing but because the [Afghanistan] government has failed utterly to win the support of its own people."
There has been a string of attacks in Afghanistan this weekend, including the shooting of an international service member by a man in Afghan police uniform.
Among the many to offer their condolences, Key and Jones were joined by Coleman, Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, a former Defence Force chief, and the RSA.
All said they were deeply saddened and that their thoughts were with the victims' families.
DEATHS PROMPTED EXTENDED ROLE
The Cabinet approved New Zealand's Bamiyan-based Defence Force staff extending operations east into the hostile Baghlan province after the firefight that killed Malone and Durrer and injured six other Kiwi soldiers.
Durrer and Malone, both 26, were on their first deployment to Afghanistan as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team. The insurgents which killed them were from Baghlan province.
Baghlan is the responsibility of Hungarian forces, which are reluctant to patrol the area, but Key has ruled out seeking a change to the Hungarians' rules of engagement.
The reluctance of the Hungarians to patrol their area had led to an increase in insurgent activity in recent years, Key said.
"It's a very hostile environment and it's a dangerous and difficult environment there,'' he said
Fairfax NZ and AP
Which memorial design do you like most?Related story: Christchurch earthquake memorial designs unveiled