7 Aug 2012

Two soldiers killed were both lance-corporals

1:30 pm on 7 August 2012

The two New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan at the weekend have been named. They were Lance-Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance-Corporal Rory Malone.

The pair, who were on their first deployment to Afghanistan and were part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan province, died on Saturday when their unit was ambushed.

Lance-Corporal Malone was fatally shot while trying to rescue his company commander, who'd been injured in the first exchanges of gunfire.

Lance-Corporal Durrer died while being evacuated.

Both men were 26 and unmarried, and had been based at Burnham military camp. Both had also previously served in Timor-Leste.

Their bodies are at Bagram air-force base while arrangements are made for their return to New Zealand - which is expected to happen by midweek.

Six other New Zealand soldiers were wounded; three are in a serious but stable condition, the others suffered moderate injuries.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman told Morning Report the attack follows increased activity in the area by highly organised, well-trained and well-armed insurgents.

Mr Coleman says Afghanistan's a dangerous place and New Zealand doesn't send people there lightly. "Tragically yesterday," he says, "some of those serious risks were realised and we paid a very serious price as a country."

Prime Minister John Key says the deaths won't prompt any change to the date that the Provincial Reconstruction Team is withdrawn from Afghanistan. He says the withdrawal - due next year - is a large logistical undertaking.

Another attack by insurgents

It has also been revealed that insurgents carried out a second attack in the area where the two New Zealand soldiers were killed.

Defence Force chief Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones says 10 insurgents attacked the Do Abe patrol base on Monday morning with guns and rockets - probably to show they were not defeated on Saturday.

He says no New Zealand forces were injured or killed in Monday's attack.

Lt-Gen Jones says he can't yet confirm if the insurgents were Taliban.

He says insurgents have been stepping up their attacks in the last couple of months, but this is the first direct confrontation with New Zealand troops since Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell was killed in Afghanistan two years ago.

Lt-Gen Jones says this style of attack is different to what they've seen in the past, as it was direct fire rather than a roadside bomb.

He says the PRT has been tracking this new group of insurgents, and was aware that their training and firepower had improved recently.

Province used to be 'among safest'

A British journalist in the Afghan capital, Kabul, also says the level of violence has increased recently in the region where the attack occurred.

Ben Farmer, correspondent for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, told Morning Report Bamyan used to be regarded as one of the safest provinces in Afghanistan but this is not the first violent attack there this year.

"There have been a number of attacks on Afghan policemen," he says. "Just last month there were several big bombs that hit Afghan police patrols and killed a number of police."

Mr Farmer says the New Zealand soldiers took two prisoners, one the brother of a notorious insurgent in the region.

A counter-insurgency consultant, Jason Thomas, says efforts to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan are failing, largely because of corruption.

Mr Thomas says al-Qaeda and the Taliban were removed in 2001, but reconstruction efforts have been stymied by corrupt central government and the corruption of many district governors and police commanders.

He says reconstruction work is an unsuitable role for armed forces.

The Labour Party's foreign affairs spokesperson, Phil Goff, says New Zealand forces have done all they can in Afghanistan.

Mr Goff told Morning Report they've have done a good job in Bamyan by removing the Taliban and returning some stability to the province, but the situation has evolved into a civil war and outside military forces cannot make up for the deficiencies of local government.

He supports next year's withdrawal of the PRT, as does United Future leader Peter Dunne.