27 Nov 2012

Strike on Taliban leader 'not revenge mission'

10:24 pm on 27 November 2012

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones says the air strike which killed a Taliban leader held responsible for the deaths of four New Zealand soldiers was not a revenge mission.

Abdullah Kalta, a Taliban leader in Baghlan province, was killed in a coalition air strike in the Kahmard district of northeast of Bamyan province on 21 November this year.

The Defence Force says Abdullah Kalta planned and led attacks in Bamyan in 2010 and this year in which four New Zealand soldiers were killed.

Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell died in an attack on a New Zealand patrol in August 2010. Lance-Corporal Jacinda Baker, Corporal Luke Tamatea and Private Richard Harris died in a roadside bombing in August 2012.

Lieutenant-General Jones told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Tuesday that the mission, which had help from Afghan police, was designed to remove a long-standing threat and not motivated by revenge.

He said New Zealand SAS officers helped collate information for the forces that carried out the air strike, though none were on the ground when the attack took place.

The Defence Force says there were five insurgent casualties, including Kalta, in the strike, which was authorised by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to prevent an imminent rebel attack against Afghan security forces.

Lieutenant-General Jones says they would have liked to capture Abdullah Kalta, but had to act quickly.

"While hostile actions of a group are so imminent that, in order to avoid that, you do need to strike and the only option may be to kill - and this was the case.

"They were setting up an ambush, so it was imminent that they would be attacking, in this case probably Afghan police or Afghan government officials in that region, and so ISAF made that decision to strike immediately."

Mother takes little comfort in Taliban death

Corporal Tamatea's mother Lynne McSweeney says she takes little comfort in knowing that the Taliban leader is now dead.

Ms McSweeney says while it's good to know Abdullah Kalta can't hurt anyone else, his death does not bring back her son.

"For our family it has been quite a mixed thing. Some have felt tremendous relief and others have felt indifferent. Some have felt that justice has been served - but some haven't felt anything in particular.

"My husband and I, we had actually thought three months ago you kind of want this kind of justice. And then you get it - and it just doesn't change.

"I appreciate that so much work has gone into finding a person, but that doesn't actually change our outcome."

Ms McSweeney says she doesn't believe the killing of Abdullah Kalta was carried out as retribution, rather it was soldiers acting professionally.