By 3 News online staff
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has named the three soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Sunday.
They are Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, aged 21.
The three were killed during an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) incident in the North East of Bamyan Province.
Ms Baker is the first female Kiwi soldier to have died in Afghanistan.
At a press conference this afternoon NZDF Lieutenant General Rhys Jones extended his deepest sympathies to the families of those lost.
“Ours is a dangerous profession, and while we accept these risks the death of colleagues and friends is always difficult to take, particularly coming so close following the 4 August incident where we lost two soldiers.”
Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer died in an encounter with insurgents, also in Bamyan Province, less than a fortnight ago.
These latest deaths bring the total number of Kiwi soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 10.
A map showing the contact points from the last two incidents
Bodies to come home ‘as quickly as possible’
“The Defence Force is working to return our fallen soldiers to their families as quickly as possible,” Lt Gen Jones said.
“We are also providing support to the families of the personnel involved, as well as support to families with loved ones currently serving in Afghanistan, and to our Units and personnel back in New Zealand.”
Lieutenant General Jones adds that the NZDF remains committed to ensuring a smooth and measured handover of responsibility to Afghan authorities, saying New Zealand “should be proud of our contribution in Bamyan and so too the families of those who have been killed in the service of New Zealand in Afghanistan”.
“Their sacrifice has not been in vain.”
Trio would have died instantly - Key
“Today’s events underscore the gravity of the situations New Zealand’s soldiers face daily in Afghanistan. The three brave soldiers paid the ultimate price for their selfless work, and my thoughts are with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones,” says Prime Minister John Key.
“It was a very, very large explosion. They would have certainly died instantly"
Who were the soldiers?
Cpl Tamatea joined the NZDF in February 2000, having served in Afghanistan since 2007. His latest deployment started this year.
Lance Cpl Baker joined as a medic in April 2007 and was promoted a year later. She had also served in the Solomon Islands.
Private Harris joined the army in February 2009 and had previously served in Timor.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, however Lt Gen Jones says the ‘bomb maker’, who was the target of the last mission, has not been found.
“We are still trying to track that group.”
Labour: Withdraw our troops ASAP
The deaths have renewed calls from the Labour Party to bring the soldiers home, with Labour Party leader David Shearer saying it is clear we are not going to win the war.
“That is something the Afghan people need to do for themselves,” he says.
“The question really is how do we get out, I think as soon as practicable, without cutting and running and leaving more instability behind us.”
But Mr Shearer says withdrawal of the troops would need to be an “orderly transition”.
“What we don’t want to do is undo all that good work by just cutting and running,” he says.
“But I would have thought that transition now should be sooner rather than later.”
NZ troops won’t return early - Key
But Mr Key says the latest incident will not force New Zealand to pull out of Afghanistan any earlier than the proposed 2013 withdrawal date.
“Prior to the deaths of Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer we had been looking at that date in 2013, and the options are either earlier or later, and the preference has been for an earlier 2013 exit anyway, so we’re not going to be changing the date as a result of these three tragic deaths ,” he says.
The NZDF says the latest incident occurred at around 9:20am Afghanistan time on Sunday, north west of Do Abe, on the road to Romero, when the last vehicle in a convoy was hit by the IED. The other troops in the patrol then secured the location and waited for additional support.
Taliban ‘targeting foreigners’
A New Zealand journalist in Kabul, Jon Stephenson, says the soldiers killed could be part of a Taliban plan to oust foreigners from the country.
He says the Taliban have said they are doubling their attempts to expel foreign soldiers whose countries contribute to the coalition in Afghanistan.
"There's some suggestion, speculation at this stage which hasn't been confirmed, that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, has recently called on...the public of those countries to pressure the governments to withdraw troops, just like the French public did after the deaths of five French soldiers earlier this year in a province near Kabul."
A former British Commander, Colonel Richard Kemp, says New Zealand shouldn't be surprised if there's more Taliban action to come.
“The Taliban throughout the country are intending to step up the pace of their operations, they know that NATO forces are planning to withdraw in 2014, they want to be seen to give NATO forces and their allies a bloody nose,” says Mr Kemp.
Mr Kemp says special forces may now be needed in the future.
New Zealand has 145 soldiers serving in three bases in Afghanistan.