NZ soldiers among dead in Afghan firefight

Prime minister says deaths in central Bamiyan province will not accelerate Wellington's plan to withdraw troops by 2013.

    Two New Zealand soldiers are among the four people killed and at least 13 wounded during a battle with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

    The New Zealand Defence Force said on Sunday that the soldiers were killed near the town of Do Abe, in central Bamiyan province, after they came to the aid of local security forces, who were under attack.

    The deaths, which occurred Saturday, bring New Zealand's total number of fatalities since the war began in Afghanistan to seven. Two Afghan security officers were also killed.

    Six New Zealand soldiers were among the wounded.

    The island nation has stationed about 150 soldiers in largely peaceful Bamiyan since 2003.

    "This is a reminder of the dangers our soldiers face," John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand, said on Sunday. "These soldiers have paid the highest price, and my thoughts are with their family and friends."

    Three of the injured New Zealand soldiers remain in serious condition in a military hospital. The other three had moderate injuries.

    Lieutenant Gen Rhys Jones, the chief of the Defence Force, said Afghan forces requested help from the New Zealand soldiers after being ambushed on their way to make a planned arrest. The gunmen killed two Afghan officers and took refuge in a building, Jones said.

    As the New Zealand soldiers attempted to secure the area, they were attacked by a second group of fighters, Jones said. One of the soldiers died when his armoured vehicle was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, while the second was killed by gunfire.

    About 17 fighters escaped, carrying several dead and wounded comrades, Jones said. One was captured, and he will be turned over to Afghan authorities, he added.

    Key said that the latest deaths would not alter New Zealand's plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in 2013.

    A New Zealand deployment of about 40 elite Special Air Services troops based in Kabul ended its mission in March this year.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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