26 Jul 2011

Inquiry into Afghanistan death finds training fell short

6:29 am on 26 July 2011

A Defence Force court of inquiry into the death of a New Zealand soldier in Afghanistan has revealed shortcomings in training.

However, it says the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, 28, of Feilding, was not preventable.

Lieutenant O'Donnell was killed instantly by a roadside bomb when the patrol he was leading was attacked in the province of Bamiyan last August.

His death was the first combat fatality for the Defence Force in 10 years and the first in Afghanistan.

The ambush also wounded two other soldiers and an Afghan interpreter.

The court of inquiry says the ambushed soldiers did not get enough training on how to use weapons, co-ordinate emergency air support or drive their vehicles.

It says patrol members were not familiar with the skills they would need in the Afghanistan theatre in sufficient depth or breadth. There was a lack of time to train the troops and insufficient instructors.

The inquiry says the gaps in training were learnt through on-the-job training during actual operations.

Statements from patrol members show that they developed their own weapons drills and maintenance procedures based on trial and error.

The inquiry found that patrol members were not given formal operator training on the MK19 grenade launcher.

Chief of Army, Major General Tim Keating, says it was a new weapon introduced into Afghanistan.

The report made 69 recommendations for improvements. It interviewed 59 witnesses and produced a summary covering 80 pages.

The defence force says it has made major changes to its capability and weapon systems.

Changes would not have prevented death - family

Lieutenant O'Donnell's uncle, Barry O'Donnell, told a news conference that nothing in the report would have prevented his nephew's death.

"I think that Tim's death would have occurred regardless of whether any of those recommendations had been put in place before this event occurred. The issues about training and weapons systems would not have prevented the ambush."

A former head of the army, Major General Lou Gardiner, says it is hard to replicate the conditions that troops might face overseas, before they leave New Zealand.