21 Aug 2012

Defence Force seeks to extend Afghan patrols

5:37 am on 21 August 2012

The Defence Force says New Zealand soldiers may soon be allowed to patrol in the Afghan province of Baghlan to disrupt the sort of attacks that have killed five soldiers in neighbouring Bamyan.

On Sunday, Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris from the Provincial Reconstruction Team died instantly when their Humvee was blown up by an improvised explosive device.

On 4 August, Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were also killed during an ambush in Bamyan. Ten New Zealand soldiers have now died in Afghanistan.

The head of the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, says it is discussing extending patrols with the NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

General Jones told Checkpoint on Monday the bomb used in the latest attack weighed more than 20kg and further patrols would reduce the chances of insurgents getting a bomb into Bamyan.

"It would disrupt them and therefore reduce the chance of the insurgents being able to get to the stage where they've got an intact bomb and be able to have the freedom to operate in our area."

General Jones said he hopes that permission will be granted within days.

Major Martyn Crighton, a spokesperson for ISAF in Kabul, does not believe the latest fatal attacks signify the start of a Taliban offensive in Bamyan. He said the loss is tragic, but does not deter ISAF's resolve.

A map showing the latest two attacks in Bamyan.

A map showing the latest two attacks in Bamyan. Photo: DEFENCE FORCE

No early pullout

The Prime Minister says New Zealand forces will remain in Afghanistan until 2013 as planned.

John Key said troops have been in Bamyan since 2003 and it is "highly likely" that they will be brought home in about April next year.

New Zealand has to rely on another coalition partner for logistical support and at the moment those arrangements mean April is the most likely date, he said.

Mr Key told Morning Report on Monday it is a time of great grief for the soldiers' families and New Zealand, but ''to cut and run now would not honour those deaths''.

He said it would not be practical nor sensible, and that bereaved families would be shocked if that were to occur.

The Prime Minister said there has been increased insurgent activity in the north-east of Bamyan where a new bomb maker has been working. He said New Zealand forces have been targeting him for some time and Sunday's deadly blast might be linked to his work.

Labour Party leader David Shearer agreed that New Zealand troops should not to leave early and must make sure there is an orderly transition to Afghan forces.