20 Aug 2011

First SAS soldier to be killed in Afghanistan

5:29 pm on 20 August 2011

A New Zealand SAS soldier has been killed during a Taliban attack on a British cultural office in the Afghan capital Kabul.

The New Zealand Defence Force has confirmed that the man was shot in the chest and died on the way to hospital on Friday.

At least eight Afghan policemen were killed and three security guards also died, the Afghan interior ministry told the BBC. All four Taliban fighters were killed, the BBC reports.

The militants had laid siege to the British Council building in the capital in what the group called a warning to London as Afghanistan celebrated 92 years of independence from British rule.

In a statement, Defence Chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the soldier and his colleagues were attempting to free hostages trapped in the building following an attack.

Lieutenant General Jones said the soldier killed is the first member of the SAS to die while in action in Afghanistan. His next of kin have been informed.

"I'm sure I speak for all New Zealanders when I say how saddened we are to hear news of the death of one of our own in Afghanistan, and our thoughts are with his family and friends at what must be a very difficult time.

"His is the first loss of life in action the NZ SAS group has suffered in Afghanistan. Their work is always dangerous; they are brave men who train to do all they can to serve New Zealand."

Prime Minister John Key has released a statement, saying the New Zealand Government is saddened by the soldier's death.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron described the attack as cowardly and vicious, and said he had spoken to Mr Key to thank him for the "incredibly brave and hard work" of the SAS who helped to bring the "appalling" incident to a close.

The British Council is part-funded by the government to promote cultural relations around the world.

The UK Foreign Office said all British citizens were "shaken but well" after being safely removed from the building.

One British and one South African teacher were among four residents of the compound who took refuge in a reinforced safe room during the attack, the British Council said.

Britain is the second-largest provider of troops to the international military effort in Afghanistan, with about 9500 forces mainly in the south.

Nine-hour battle

A correspondent at the scene told Radio New Zealand on Friday the nine-hour battle began at dawn with a car bomb which broke through the compound wall, allowing the attackers to storm the British Council building.

Afghan security forces, Gurkhas employed as guards and New Zealand special forces led the rescue operation, with assistance from a small number of British troops.

The attackers were armed with grenades and heavy artillery and it took five hours to clear a path to the trapped staff sheltering in a panic room.

They were rescued, but at least eight of the Afghan police and guards died.

SAS soldiers wounded in June

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

In June this year, New Zealand SAS soldiers were involved in a battle with insurgents in the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and two were wounded.