19 Jul 2011

SAS members in new Kabul fighting

5:36 am on 19 July 2011

New Zealand's SAS troops have been involved in another gun battle in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Prime Minister John Key says he was told about the incident at 8am on Monday NZ time.

Mr Key has confirmed it was the attack in which the former governor of Uruzgan province and aide to the president, Jan Mohammad Khan, and an MP for Uruzgan, Mohammad Hashem Watanwal, were killed.

Mr Key says the SAS troops were mentoring Afghan forces and became involved in the operation when it was clear their help was needed.

But he says most of the operation was handled by Afghan security forces.

He says the operation is now over and the New Zealand troops have returned to their base.

"We understand one Afghan security force member was killed in action during the event and another was seriously injured. And of course our sympathies go out to the families of those police officers.

"No New Zealanders were injured during the operation. Two insurgents were confirmed dead," Mr Key says.

Officials say at least two armed men started a gun battle at about 8pm local time at Mr Khan's house.

A BBC correspondent reports that while Jan Mohammad Khan was an important tribal elder, as well as a close ally of President Karzai, he was also a controversial figure and was often accused of supporting local militias and abusing human rights.

Bamiyan handover

Just hours before the attack, a ceremony was held in central Bamiyan province marking the start of the transition of security duties from NATO forces to the Afghan security forces.

The main New Zealand force is stationed there, with New Zealand defence, police and civilian staff serving in the Bamiyan Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told Morning Report that Afghan forces have taken a lead role in the province on security issues for some time, with New Zealand in a support role. The formal handover was deeply symbolic but does not involve a change in operational style, he said.