20 Jan 2010

NZ troops involved in Taliban attack

3:07 pm on 20 January 2010

The Prime Minister has confirmed that Special Air Services troops were at the scene of a deadly attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday night.

Up to 14 people were killed in the attack, which involved about 20 Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers and lasted about four hours.

John Key gave limited details of the involvement of the SAS troops at Tuesday afternoon's post-cabinet media briefing. He said a "small element" of SAS members were among forces that took up positions close to the attack, but their involvement was limited and none of them were injured.

There were civilian casualties in the attack, but Mr Key says to the best of his knowledge New Zealand's troops were not involved in incidents that caused harm.

Mr Key says no other New Zealand defence force personnel in Kabul were involved.

The SAS deployed about 80 fighters to Afghanistan in August.

In October, Prime Minister John Key confirmed the SAS was operating in Kabul, following comments in a Norwegian newspaper.

SAS not engaged in combat - NYT

The New York Times reporter who revealed New Zealand's SAS were present after the Taliban attack in Kabul says they did not appear to get into combat.

Dexter Filkin told Summer Report he was at the scene of the bombing and the ensuing gun battle near the Presidential Palace. He says the eight or 10 New Zealand soldiers seemed to be the only international troops in the area, and several hundred members of the Afghan security forces were engaged in fighting.

Intense attack

Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a number of buildings in the heart of Kabul on Monday morning as President Hamid Karzai was swearing in members of his cabinet. The fighting lasted four hours.

A car packed with explosives was detonated outside the ministry of education, and two shopping centres, the presidential palace, a cinema and the five-star Serena Hotel were also targeted.

NATO says the Taliban were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

President Karzai says security has now been restored. According to a government minister, seven of the attackers were killed.

NZ community waits for news

A spokesperson for Auckland's Afghan community, Siraj Salarzi says the attack - the most deadly in nearly a year - sent shockwaves through refugee families here.

Mr Salarzi says many people in the Afghan community still have relatives and friends in the country, and the lack of security is a constant worry.

He is critical of the Government's decision last year to redeploy SAS troops and wind down the provincial reconstruction team, saying military build-up is not the solution.

An anti-war protest group says an increase in attacks in Afghanistan's heavily defended capital, Kabul, means the government there is failing.

Mike Treen, of the group Global Peace and Justice, says the SAS should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.