30 Jun 2011

Government supports SAS training of Afghan police

12:29 pm on 30 June 2011

The New Zealand Government says it still has confidence in Afghanistan's police force in the wake of a deadly siege that wounded two SAS soldiers.

It says one of the reasons New Zealand still has elite soldiers in Afghanistan is to train police units like the one that responded to the attack on a Kabul hotel.

Ten civilians and two Afghan police officers were killed in the raid at the Intercontinental Hotel, along with nine militants.

The SAS soldiers who sustained what is being described as "moderate blast fragmentation" wounds are being treated in Kabul.

Insurgents and suicide bombers stormed the hotel armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, leading to a five-hour battle.

Three attackers managed to reach the roof and Afghan officials then asked the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for help.

Dutch freelance reporter Bette Dam told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme she saw members of the SAS join the fight.

"They did try to monitor the Afghan forces but were, of course, involved in the fight immediately. And even though the New Zealand troops were in the hotel, it took a while to locate all the suicide bombers."

The Guardian's correspondent in Kabul, Jon Boone, told Morning Report the New Zealanders were heavily involved in fighting.

"There was one team of operating out of a US Black Hawk helicopter. It was flying around in the sky above the hotel and flying above the hotel and firing down onto the roof where three insurgents were based.

"The other team of New Zealanders went into the hotel. They were involved in the moping up and giving a little bit of assistance."

Afghan police led operation - Mapp

New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says the Afghan Crisis Response Unit led the operation with SAS support.

Dr Mapp told Morning Report while the unit is not in the same league as the SAS, it did a good job.

"We've obviously got to continue to build up the capability of the Afghan police, and that is taking a bit of time.

"But they've made huge gains over the last 24 months - they simply would not have been able to do the sorts of things they were able to do in Kabul over the last couple of days 24 months ago."

New Zealand has 38 SAS members and support staff based in Kabul. Dr Mapp says the elite soldiers will remain in Afghanistan until at least March next year.