29 Sep 2011

Govt says military support to continue in Afghanistan

10:50 pm on 29 September 2011

The Government says New Zealand will continue to support military action in Afghanistan despite the death of a second SAS soldier in as many months.

Lance Corporal Leon Smith was shot and killed in Wardak province near Kabul on Wednesday. He was part of an elite team of New Zealand soldiers supporting the Afghan Crisis Response Unit.

Fighting began as police from the unit and their SAS trainers were setting up a cordon around a compound containing suspected Taliban insurgents before carrying out a search and arrest warrant.

The Defence Force says Lance Corporal Smith was killed by an insurgent after he climbed a ladder to observe the cordon.

The soldier's death has re-ignited concerns about what Defence Force describes as its mentoring role with the Crisis Response Unit.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp dismissed those worries on Thursday, saying the role of mentoring is dangerous and means SAS soldiers are often in the middle of the action.

However, Dr Mapp believes their work is necessary.

"It is critically important that New Zealand plays its part in the fight against global terrorism. New Zealand is not immune from this threat and we need to keep working with our allies to make the world a safer place."

Lance Corporal Smith is the second SAS soldier to be killed in Afghanistan and his death brings the number of New Zealand soldiers who have died in the country to four.

In August this year, SAS trooper Corporal Doug Grant, 41, was killed during a mission to rescue people from a British Council building during a Taliban attack in Kabul.

Prime Minister John Key says he is comfortable with the mentoring role the SAS is carrying out despite the recent deaths and is adamant the soldiers will stay until March next year.

But there is growing political opposition to the SAS involvement in Afghanistan, with the Labour, Green, Maori and United Future parties wanting the soldiers to come home early.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the Afghanistan deployment is serving the interests of the United States, not New Zealand.

Labour leader Phil Goff has said his party would bring the SAS home as soon as possible.