21 Aug 2011

Afghan troops performed well during fatal attack - NZ

7:42 am on 21 August 2011

The New Zealand Defence Force says Afghan forces performed commendably in their reaction to an attack by Taliban fighters during which a New Zealand SAS soldier was killed.

In the attack on Friday, a suicide car bomb breached the compound wall of a British cultural centre in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and men armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades forced their way inside.

The New Zealand soldier's unit was involved in rescuing British Council staff and their guards trapped inside the building. The trooper was shot in the chest and died on the way to hospital.

The Defence Force says that, despite the death, the Afghan Crisis Response Unit which is mentored by the SAS is stepping up to the mark, thanks largely to the support of the New Zealand special forces.

Prime Minister John Key says the SAS soldiers have been out on hundreds of missions with the unit, which he says has shown a dramatic increase in competency.

BBC correspondent Quentin Sommerville, who is based in Kabul, says the mentoring role of New Zealand special forces and others is key to Afghan troops being able to stand alone against the Taliban after the foreign forces leave.

While the Afghan Crisis Response Unit was very competent on Friday, he says, the siege that went on for several hours clearly showed Afghan commanders still need foreign help and special forces assistance.

Strategies reviewed

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones says the intensity of the attack shows why the skills of New Zealand's special forces are required in Afghanistan.

He says the Taliban are well-trained, well-supported with weapons, equipment and intelligence and willing to die for their cause - and that stretches all counter-terrorist teams to the limit.

General Jones says it is standard procedure to review all operations but there will be more scrutiny of this one because of the soldier's death.

He says Taliban fighters adapt and change their tactics, so it is essential to constantly review strategies.

Troop withdrawal deadline

Green MP Keith Locke says he hopes the Government won't use the death as an excuse to push back the deadline to end the SAS deployment in March 2012.

Prime Minister John Key has said he has no intention of pulling New Zealand troops out of Afghanistan early.

The attack on the British Council in Kabul has come as Afghanistan and the United States are reportedly working on a pact to allow thousands of US troops to remain in the country well beyond a deadline of 2014.

A reporter for UK newspaper The Telegraph, Ben Farmer, says it would mean American forces continue training Afghan troops while conducting counter-terrorism operations.

He says a senior Afghan official has indicated he would like to see the US remain until 2024, and that is likely to mean other nations would also be expected to contribute in a similar way.

Earlier this month, NATO and the US reluctantly backed a peace plan involving reconciliation with some Taliban members.

The Taliban have repeatedly said they will not negotiate with the Afghan government until all foreign forces have stopped fighting in their country.