Soldiers' deaths 'an enormous price to pay'

The deaths of two New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan was an "enormous price to pay", the Prime Minister John Key said today.

The soldiers were killed and six injured during an ambush, which latest just a few minutes, in Afghanistan yesterday.

The deaths brings the toll of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan to seven.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones told a media conference today that yesterday morning (7pm NZT) a branch of the Afghan Police, the NDS, were attempting to arrest an insurgent near a village south of Do Abe in the north east of Bamiyan Province when they were ambushed.

Two were killed and seven injured so they requested help from the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT) to help stabilise the situation and evacuate their wounded.

The NZPRT sent patrols to the area who laid down suppressing fire on the insurgents, who were holed up in a compound.

As the NDS cleared the compound so the New Zealand troops could move to secure the surrounding areas they came under fire from a separate group of insurgents.

"Some anti-tank fire was put onto our armoured vehicles, as well as small arms fire - rifles, machine guns - onto our troops," Lt Gen Jones said.

One of the men was killed after an anti-tank rocket hit the armoured vehicle he was in, the other other man was on foot when he was hit by either gunfire or shrapnel.

"We suffered two dead and the remaining six wounded in about a two to three minute timeframe in that first burst of fire on our forces."

One of the died men instantly and the other died in a helicopter en route to hospital.

Three of the men were seriously injured and were expected to return back to New Zealand.

The other three sustained moderate injuries.

Names of the men were expected to be released tomorrow, but their families had been notified, the Defence Force said.

Lt Gen Jones said the six injured had all suffered either gunshot or blast injuries and were taken to two hospitals in the north of the country.

Australia and the United States had offered to help to facilitate bringing the dead soldiers back to New Zealand. This was yet to be determined.

Lt Gen Jones said further information about the incident should be released about midday tomorrow.

He was confident the NZPRT had acted appropriately during the mission, and said they were "the best in the world".

"The training standards in New Zealand are equal to anywhere in the world and that's why I can remain confident that our guys were well prepared for it.

"They were three months into their deployment; they were experienced in operating their gear, the response was very good, but the reality is that this is a battle zone."

Lt Gen Jones said the group of insurgents responsible for the ambush had been tracked by coalition forces for some time.

One insurgent had been captured, who would probably be handed over to Afghan authorities.

Prime Minister John Key said the deaths would not effect the the date of New Zealand troops' withdrawal from the country.

"We're still working through exactly when that date will be, some time in 2013. It's quite a large logistical exercise ... and we've been there for the best part of a decade so it'll be some time before we can do that."

Mr Key said losing the two young men was "an enormous price to pay".

"It reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the Province.

"It is with enormous sadness that I acknowledge that these soldiers have paid the highest price. My thoughts are with the family and friends of the two brave soldiers killed and also with the families and friends of those injured."

The Governor General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae said it was with great sadness to learn of the soldier's deaths.

"Serving in New Zealand's Defence Force and being deployed in war-torn countries, such as Afghanistan, carries significant risk."

He said the soldiers, paid the "ultimate sacrifice", and the six injured, had been part of a team that had worked tirelessly and consistently to bring peace and stability to the Province.

"On behalf of all New Zealanders, Janine and I extend our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and mates-in-arms of the two deceased soldiers, as they come to terms with this tragic loss. Our thoughts are also with the families and friends of those who have been injured."

Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman also offered his condolences to the families of the soldiers killed in action.

"The work the NZDF undertake in this region is dangerous and they have been well trained to respond to these incidents."

Labour Party leader David Shearer, who previously worked for the United Nations in Afghanistan, said the area the two soldiers were killed was one of the most volatile in Bamiyan Province.

The latest deaths did not make him reconsider whether New Zealand troops should remain in the country.

"I think we've got a programme to withdraw over time and I think that's probably the right way to go. Unfortunately it's a dangerous place to work. It's tragic that it's happened towards the end of our programme."

Mr Shearer said the New Zealand contingent was seen as a "model" of how effective a reconstruction team could be.

The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association national president Don McIver said that the tragic news of the deaths of the soldiers would be received with great sorrow by all members of the RSA.

RSAs throughout the country stand ready to support and assist the families of the deceased and of the wounded, he said.

Today and over the next few days flags will fly at half-mast at RSAs to honour the memory of our fallen compatriots.

The Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei told APNZ the deaths were a "terrible tragedy".

Ms Turei said the Provincial Reconstruction Team had been doing very well in Afghanistan and in supporting the community there.

"So this is a real tragedy that this has happened with some of the members of that reconstruction team.

"Losing loved ones is always devastating, but it is especially so when they chose to selflessly work on the other side of the world in a community that has been devastated by war and terror."

NZ's Afghanistan deaths

August 2012: Two PRT soldiers killed in attack in north-east Bamiyan Province.

April 2012: PRT Corporal Douglas Hughes dies in incident at Romero.

September 2011: SAS Lance Corporal Leon Smith killed during operation in Wardak province.

August 2011: SAS Corporal Doug Grant, 41, killed during Taleban attack in Kabul.

February 2011: PRT Private Kirifi Mila killed in Humvee accident, Bamiyan.

August 2010: PRT Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell killed in firefight after ambush in Bamiyan.

- Matthew Theunissen and Rebecca Quilliam of APNZ

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