16 Feb 2011

Soldiers must finish work in Afghanistan, say leaders

6:33 pm on 16 February 2011

The Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand say their militaries must finish the job in Afghanistan despite the death of a New Zealand soldier in Bamyan province.

The Defence Force has named soldier killed on Tuesday (local time) as Private Kirifi Mila, who had been due to return to New Zealand in April this year.


The 27-year-old became the second New Zealand soldier to die in Afghanistan when a Humvee vehicle rolled down a 30-metre cliff during a patrol in north-east Bamyan.

Private Mila was a gunner positioned on the roof of the vehicle and became trapped underneath before it was lifted by helicopter.

Another private has been operated on for head injuries and a sergeant suffered broken ribs. A fourth soldier was not injured.

The Defence Force is investigating, but says the accident had no connection with insurgent activity and vehicle accidents are a common problem in Afghanistan.

Defence chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones says Private Mila's family has been informed and are devastated by the news.

There are 125 Defence Force personnel with New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan province. The team has been based in central Afghanistan since 2003 running regular security patrols and working with local companies to build bridges, schools and police stations.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Wednesday Private Mila's death is a tragedy, but al Qaeda and the Taliban must not be allowed regroup in Afghanistan.

Mr Key says the Defence Force is operating in a dangerous and difficult environment, but everything must be done to ensure that Bamyan can one day be handed over to Afghan control.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in Wellington on an official visit, echoed those comments, saying terrorists must be denied the chance to train in Afghanistan and the mission must be completed.

In August last year, New Zealand Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell was killed and two others seriously injured when their four-vehicle convoy was attacked by insurgents in Bamyan province.

The Returned and Services Association says its branches will fly flags at half-mast in honour of Private Mila.

Driver training may be improved

The Defence Force says it will look at improving driving training if driver error is found to have been responsible for Private Mila's death.

Joint Forces commander Air Vice Marshal Peter Stockwell told Checkpoint on Wednesday it is not yet known if there was driver error.

However, he says training will be looked at if that is the case to make sure such accidents do not happen again.

Air Vice Marshal Stockwell says there are several accidents on the roads in Bamyan each month but they are infrequent.