Soldier killed in Afghanistan named

A soldier killed in an ambush in Afghanistan overnight was a Feilding man who had previously been honoured for his valour in East Timor.

Lieutenant Timothy Andrew O'Donnell, 28, was killed when his three-vehicle patrol was attacked with explosives, rocket propelled grenades and gunfire in north-east Bamiyan Province overnight.

Two other soldiers suffered serious injuries, including burns and a wounded leg, but their injuries were not thought to be life-threatening. A local interpreter with the patrol was also hurt.

Prime Minister John Key has spoken to Lt O'Donnell's mother and expressed his sorrow on behalf of New Zealand. He said she had asked him to pass on her sympathies also to the family of the injured two.

"I think that shows extraordinary bravery and courage on her part and also the strength of the wider military family when such a tragedy takes place."

Plans to bring Lt O'Donnell's body home to New Zealand are under way.

It was not the first ambush by insurgents that Lt O'Donnell had encountered. He told a TVNZ reporter earlier this year that a patrol had been attacked on the way back to base in April.

"On the way back to our location we were hit with an ambush and they fired a few RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) at us and some small arms fire," he said.

That attack bore striking similarities to the ambush that claimed his life early this morning.

In the 2008 New Year honours list Lt O'Donnell, of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, was awarded the Distinguished Service Decoration for his valour while serving as a 25-year-old platoon commander in East Timor as part of the New Zealand contribution to the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF).

His platoon was conducting a security patrol on April 5, 2007, when it encountered a crowd of approximately 1000 Fretilin supporters returning from an election rally in Dili.

The crowd, escorted by United Nations police officers, had halted on the outskirts of Manatuto, fearing attacks from opposition political supporters. While the platoon was endeavouring to secure a safe route, the UN police began moving the Fretilin supporters across a bridge toward Manatuto, despite having been requested not to do so.

The crowd was then ambushed by about 600 opposition supporters throwing rocks and firing steel darts and arrows. Under the hail of projectiles, the police escort was quickly overwhelmed and withdrew, leaving the Fretilin convoy stranded on the bridge.

Lt O'Donnell decided to intervene, which meant that his platoon also came under attack.

His soldiers had to fire both warning shots and aimed shots against their assailants. Eventually, his platoon managed to push back the attackers and secure a bypass route around Manatuto for the Fretilin convoy, which safely circumnavigated the town without loss of life or serious injury. Soon after ISF reinforcements arrived on the scene to assist in restoring law and order to the town.

The citation for Lt O'Donnell's award said that without the decisive intervention of his platoon, it was likely that the situation could have deteriorated, resulting in a number of fatalities.

Later Lt O'Donnell told NZPA he was very proud of the actions of his platoon.

"All their training kicked in, they kept their heads and it was all pretty controlled," he said.

"A lot of the guys enjoyed it. That's what you train for and to put yourself into a test like that and come out of it is pretty good."

The death of Lt O'Donnell was the third tragedy to rock the small Manawatu town in a month after the killing of farmer Scott Guy and a plane crash that killed flight instructor Jess Neeson and her student Patricia Smallman.







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