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NZ soldiers wounded in friendly fire

18:46 Thu Jun 13 2013
Official findings of an inquiry into the deaths of five New Zealand soldiers serving in Afghanistan in two incidents just weeks apart will be released.
Official findings of an inquiry into the deaths of five New Zealand soldiers serving in Afghanistan in two incidents just weeks apart will be released.

Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were killed by insurgents but a rush into a chaotic battle led to two New Zealand soldiers being wounded by friendly fire in Afghanistan last year, a Court of Inquiry has found.

The two soldiers died in a 12-minute gun battle. It would have been impossible for them to have been killed by friendly fire, the court said.

Lnc Cpl Malone was killed by a heavier calibre AK47 round, used by the insurgents.

The court found that two New Zealand soldiers would not have been shot at and wounded by friendly fire if a light armoured vehicle had not rushed into battle.

The two soldiers were among six wounded in the "Battle of Baghak" in August, when New Zealanders were called in to help local forces fighting insurgents in a narrow valley.

It was the biggest fire fight regular New Zealand troops have taken part in since the Vietnam War.

The court said two senior commanders were wounded early in the fight, which contributed to those in the LAV not knowing their own soldiers were up on the steep slopes above.

The LAV had arrived later in the battle and fired nine 25mm rounds, blowing at least one soldier off his feet. The wounds were caused by shrapnel and they were lucky to survive.

The court said literature was rich with the concept of "the fog of war".

However, in presenting the findings on Thursday, Chief of Army, Major General Dave Gawn, reiterated the court's finding that "it is not acceptable that friendly fire incidents are inevitable, but they are understandable".

Despite some of the adverse findings, Maj Gen Gawn said he was proud of how the troops performed. Many will be eligible for valour medals.

The court also looked at the deaths of Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, who were killed by a massive roadside bomb 15 days later.

Their Humvee ran over a pressure plate, which set off the 22kg bomb, which would have been powerful enough to destroy the much more heavily armoured LAV.

Patrols now took steps to avoid such bombs, but the court said there should be improvements to mortuary care after one of the bodies was brought back to Christchurch, most of the way by Australian aircraft, carrying a live grenade and two rounds of ammunition.

The badly damaged body was not checked intensively for ammunition because the aim was to preserve it as much as possible for a post-mortem examination back in New Zealand.

The court said bodies should in future be x-rayed before they are transported.

Eight New Zealand soldiers have died while deployed in Afghanistan's Bamyan Province, where the majority of the country's troops served before the Provincial Reconstruction Team was withdrawn in April this year.

Two SAS soldiers have been killed elsewhere in Afghanistan.