The untold story of the fatal Battle of Baghak
Afghan soldiers who fought shoulder to shoulder with New Zealand troops against insurgents in a deadly battle have spoken for the first time and described what really went on.
The soldiers were in the Battle of Baghak in August 2012 when two New Zealanders and four Afghans died, but were never interviewed as part of the Court of Inquiry carried out by the New Zealand Defence Force.
But a Stuff Circuit investigation into New Zealand's war in Afghanistan, The Valley, features interviews with the men, many of whom were injured themselves.
The battle took place in Bamyan province and involved more than 60 members of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) - what was supposed to be a non-combat mission helping rebuild Afghanistan.
The Court of Inquiry's official report backed the involvement of the PRT, and made conclusions about what had happened.
But some of what of the Afghan soldiers say contradicts key aspects of the Court of Inquiry, and casts serious doubt over the inquiry's findings.
The soldiers have also spoken of their respect for their New Zealand comrades, remembering especially what they call the heroic work of medic Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker.
Soldiers told Stuff Circuit Baker is revered for the role she played in saving many lives that day. They were distraught when she herself was killed two weeks later in a roadside bomb, alongside two other New Zealanders, Corporal Luke Tamatea and Private Richard Harris.
Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker. NEW ZEALAND DEFENCE FORCE
On the day of the battle, Baker was frantically carrying out first aid at an emergency evacuation point set up so American helicopters could carry the wounded to hospital.
"One of the commanders of our team was badly injured and when the helicopters arrived there was no one to carry him and he wasn't able to walk," the Afghan commander on the ground that day, Hajji Wais, told Stuff Circuit.
Baker saw what was happening and hoisted the officer on to her shoulders and carried him herself several hundred metres. Her actions saved his life and she had displayed great courage, said Wais.
Another soldier, who was wounded later in the day, told Stuff Circuit how he was lucky to be alive.
"I was hit by three bullets - one on the side and two in the stomach," said Abdul Hamid, lifting his shirt to show the bullet wounds and surgical scars. "One of my kidneys was completely destroyed."
He was in a coma for three months and nursed back to health by a New Zealand nurse based at a military hospital on Bagram airbase, but is no longer able to be a soldier.
Instead he runs a small shop on the outskirts of Bamyan town.
The untold story of the battle features in The Valley, along with other revelations about New Zealand's involvement in the war in Afghanistan, which claimed the lives of 10 soldiers.
The NZ on Air-funded series, which includes a six-part online documentary and a television documentary to be screened on THREE, also explores the broader questions of why New Zealand was involved in the war, what was achieved and what has been left behind.
A former Defence Force officer who worked in Afghanistan with the International Committee of the Red Cross told Stuff Circuit it was important those questions were asked and debated.
"Whether the decision to go into Afghanistan was correct or incorrect, I think that's a separate issue," he said. "After the event, you need to have an in-depth debrief and I think you've got to ask all the hard questions. Could we have done this in a better way? Could we have prevented those 10 young people from being killed over there?
"I think it really is important not to skirt around the issues, even if the military or the politicians don't want those questions asked, they've got to be asked."
* The Valley, a six-part investigation by Stuff Circuit, goes live tomorrow on Stuff. The documentary screens tomorrow night, 9.30pm, on THREE.
- Stuff Circuit