New Zealand suffers 1st combat death of Afghan war in a relatively peaceful area

By Amir Shah, AP
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Zealand suffers 1st combat death of Afghan war

KABUL, Afghanistan — New Zealand suffered its first combat death of the Afghan war during an ambush in one of Afghanistan’s most peaceful provinces, officials said Wednesday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Tuesday attack against a New Zealand military patrol in Bamiyan province, a central area where most of the ethnic Hazara population opposes the insurgents. Two New Zealand soldiers and an Afghan translator were wounded, New Zealand Defense Force Chief Lt. Gen. Jerry Mateparae told reporters in Wellington.

He said the three-vehicle patrol was attacked with a roadside bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.

Provincial spokesman Abdul Rahman Ahmadi said the attack occurred about 5 p.m. in the Kohmard district of northern Bamiyan. Ahmadi said the insurgents were believed to have infiltrated from nearby Baghlan province, which has seen an increase in Taliban activity in recent weeks.

Insurgent activity has been spreading into areas beyond the militants’ longtime bases in the south and east of the country, even as the U.S. and its allies are rushing thousands of reinforcements to try to turn back the Taliban. The focus of U.S. and NATO operations has been in the ethnic Pashtun south.

But recent attacks in northern provinces such as Baghlan and Kunduz have raised concern among the U.S. and its allies.

Seven RPGs were fired at the patrol, followed by heavy machine gun fire, the spokesman said. The fighting raged for more than two hours before the insurgents fled into the mountains, he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to The Associated Press.

The New Zealand Defense Department identified the dead soldier as Lt. Tim O’Donnell, 28, of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. He was the first New Zealand service member killed in combat since a soldier died in East Timor in 2000. New Zealand first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2003.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, attending a forum of South Pacific leaders in Vanuatu, said the attack would not hasten the withdrawal of New Zealand troops from Afghanistan.

“This is New Zealand’s first combat loss in Afghanistan and reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the province,” Key said in a statement.

New Zealand’s 140-strong provincial reconstruction team of troops in Bamiyan had been expected to end its seven-year deployment in September. However, Key said in May the posting will roll over for another year, then start reducing as civilian specialists are introduced.

New Zealand also has 40 Special Air Service elite combat troops in Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, Afghan and coalition forces arrested a Taliban commander and several other insurgents late Tuesday in the volatile Arghandab district of Kandahar province in the south, NATO said.

The commander, whose name was not released, was described as an explosives expert responsible for numerous attacks against coalition and Afghan troops in the valley. U.S. and Afghan troops are trying to drive the Taliban from the Arghandab valley as part of an effort to bolster security in Kandahar, the largest city in the south and the Taliban’s former headquarters.

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