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Key denies SAS on revenge mission

Wednesday 31 Oct 2012 9:01 a.m.

Prime Minister John Key is denying a report that a group of combat SAS troops has been sent back to Afghanistan to try finding the killers of five New Zealand soldiers.

Mr Key last month said four SAS soldiers had been sent back to Afghanistan to assist with logistics after Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris were killed in mid-August when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

Their deaths came two weeks after Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were killed in a firefight in the same northeast area of Bamyan province.

All were members of the provincial reconstruction team.

Mr Key said it was unlikely the SAS, withdrawn from the country in March, would return to Afghanistan in a fighting role.

He told Firstline this morning that there are five or six SAS soldiers in Afghanistan collecting intelligence, but none are taking part in combat.

However, Radio New Zealand's Afghanistan correspondent Jon Stephenson says he has been told that SAS members, in addition to those helping gather intelligence, are in the country carrying out raids and strikes against the insurgents believed to have been responsible for the New Zealand soldiers' deaths.

He says their role is "to take an active part in the hunt, as they did for the killers of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, who was killed in Bamyan in 2010".

"I've been told the mission of these troops is not to gather intelligence but to help carry out the strikes or the raids on those insurgents that killed the PRT (provincial reconstruction team) in August," said Mr Stephenson.

He says his information came from sources within the US-led coalition and the SAS community in New Zealand and understands more SAS troops could also be sent over to help.

"Completely wrong. Absolutely wrong," he said of Mr Stephenson's claims.

Mr Key said in September that US Special Forces were likely to carry out any reprisal strikes against those who carried out the attacks.

The provincial reconstruction team is on its final rotation, with the soldiers to be withdrawn in April.

NZN / 3 News

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