Kiwi soldier killed, three hurt in Afghanistan
Flags at Returned Services Association (RSA) clubs around the country will fly at half-mast tomorrow as tributes continue to flow for Private Kirifi Mila, who died while serving in Afghanistan.
Mila, 27, was carrying out a routine patrol last night - 8.30pm NZT, midday local time - when the Humvee he was in left the road and crashed down a steep 30 metre cliff.
The accident happened near the village of Ferosak in the northeast of Bamiyan province, about 30km from where Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell was killed by a bomb last year.
Mila had been standing on the turret of the Humvee when it rolled. Three other soldiers were injured, one seriously.
Mila, born in Samoa, was deployed to Afghanistan last year and is part of the 2nd 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment of the NZ Army based at Burnham Military Camp. He joined the NZ Defence Force in 2006 and was due to finish this current tour in April.
His brother is also a serving member of the NZ Army. A Defence Force statement said Mila was a popular member of the unit, who was well known as a colourful character and would be sorely missed by his comrades.
Defence Minister Wayne Mapp spoke to Mila's family this morning and said they were struggling to come to terms with their grief.
"It is so much more difficult when your loved one is thousands of miles away," Mapp said.
TRIBUTES FLOW FOR DEAD SOLDIER
RSA national president Don McIver said Mila made the ultimate sacrifice in service of his country
"Our deepest sympathies are with all those who loved and cared for Private Mila - his family, friends and comrades", McIver said.
"Our thoughts are also with the three injured soldiers and their families."
Prime Minister John Key expressed his sorrow for Mila's death, but said it was not a reason to pull troops out of Afghanistan.
"This was the result of an accident, and motor vehicle accidents do happen," Key said.
"As tragic as it deeply is that we've lost this young man, I don't think that we should change course as a result of his death.
"In fact, I think we honour his death by ensuring we do everything we can, and, in the case of Bamiyan, to make sure we can hand over that province to Afghan control."
In her address to Parliament this morning, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke about the loss of Mila while commenting on the Anzac spirit and shared losses in war.
"Just two days ago I attended the funeral of Corporal Richard Atkinson, the 22nd Australian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan," she said.
"We grieve for these men and their families as we grieve for our own, because the Anzac stories speak for both our nations, an imperishable trans-Tasman bond. They can never be replaced, our fallen, but they will never be forgotten."
The Australian and New Zealand flags were flying at half-mast when Gillard arrived at Parliament.
Labour leader Phil Goff also passed his condolences to Mila's family and to the Defence Force.
Goff said the death brought back thoughts of his own nephew, Captain Matthew Ferrara, who was killed while serving in the US Army in 2007.
"It is a painful reminder. It's a terrible tragedy to lose a young man in the prime of his life in the service of his country, and I feel very personally for Mila's family at this time."
Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand and his wife joined the tributes to Mila saying he would be sorely missed.
"At this sad time, Susan and I extend our sincere sympathies to his family and friends in New Zealand as well as in the Pacific, and trust that those injured will recover quickly," Sir Anand said.
Defence Force chief Major General Richard Rhys Jones said missions in Afghanistan often required sending young men and women into harm's way.
"I wish to pay tribute to a fine and brave soldier who died and send condolences to those in his family."
CRASH NOT AN ATTACK
Of those injured in the crash, a sergeant suffered broken ribs and a private suffered serious head injuries. The injured private has been operated on but remains in a serious condition.
The third injured soldier, also a private, was shocked but fine physically. He remains in the patrol area.
The Defence Force said it was "100 per cent confident" the crash was not the result of an insurgent attack.
Joint forces commander Peter Stockwell said the area where the crash happened was "very dangerous".
"It is quite mountainous and some of the roads are quite treacherous," he said.
A helicopter was used to evacuate the injured to Bagram air force base.
Mila's body remains in the Bamiyan province but will be moved to Bagram as soon as possible.
Stockwell said the injured men would now be transferred to a NATO hospital in Germany.
Given that this was the second death of a New Zealand Defence Force soldier in Afghanistan in recent months, the latest incident was extremely difficult to deal with.
"It never gets any easier," Stockwell said.
Mapp said it was the loss of a "fine young man".
"This is a time when we should all reflect on the price of service to our nation," Mapp said.
"The is New Zealand's second death in Afghanistan and though not a contact-related fatality, it is no lesser loss to our defence force."
NZ IN AFGHANISTAN
New Zealand has 231 personnel in Bamiyan, as part of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The current rotation, the 17th, is led by Dick Newland. They are a distinct operation and not part of the New Zealand Special Air Services unit in the Afghanistan capital Kabul.
Lieutenant O'Donnell, 28, was killed in August, last year, when the Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT) was attacked in Bamiyan province.
An improvised explosive device, or IED, was detonated when the patrol came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades and other small arms.
O'Donnell had served in the Defence Force for five years and had been honoured for his bravery during a skirmish in East Timor.
At the time, he was the only New Zealand Defence Force soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.
In December, 23-year-old Private Jack Howard, a New Zealand-born paratrooper, was killed during a US air strike.
Howard travelled to England to enlist in the force in March, 2007. He was on his second tour of Afghanistan.
AFGHAN CASUALTIES BY COUNTRY
United States 1476
New Zealand 2
Other countries operating in Afghanistan which have suffered fatalities include Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Norway, Romania and Sweden. Last year, 711 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan and so far this year, 34 have been killed. (Source: icasualties.org)