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Learn from mistakes or risk repeating tragedy

The New Zealand Defence Force needs to learn from the mistakes at Baghak or it risks a repeat of the tragedy there, says Labour’s Defence spokesperson, Phil Goff.

Two New Zealand soldiers Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were killed in the battle of Baghak during their deployment in Afghanistan in 2012. A further six were wounded, two by fire from their own side.

“The New Zealand Defence Force did not answer the questions raised at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about alleged mistakes that resulted in casualties, and has suppressed information about the circumstances in which the tragedy happened.

“Covering the incident in a shroud of secrecy rather than disclosing what occurred and being accountable for it is the wrong response. It risks mistakes that might have been made but not acknowledged being repeated, possibly in circumstances that might arise in the current deployment in Iraq.

“There are key questions that the Defence Force must answer: 

  • If the objective of the mission was an in-extremis evacuation of Afghan security forces, why were the New Zealand soldiers not withdrawn as soon as they had achieved that early on in the day?
  • Why were New Zealand soldiers left waiting for two and a half hours in a vulnerable position in a valley known for ambushes by insurgents?
  • Why did the objective apparently change from conducting an evacuation to going on the attack against insurgents, when the insurgents had the overwhelming advantage of occupying the high ground overlooking the valley and in locations unknown to the Kiwi soldiers?
  • Why were New Zealanders placed in a position which even the Court of Inquiry acknowledged they had not been adequately trained and prepared for?

“These are questions that demand answers, and questions which have been raised by experienced former Kiwi soldiers, including one who participated in the battle and was wounded by friendly fire.

“It’s unfortunate that instead of being open and focussed on learning from the tragedy the Defence Force has chosen to suppress information about the circumstances surrounding this incident,’ Phil Goff said.