5 Aug 2010

Defence Force says NZ soldier died in initial explosion

10:20 pm on 5 August 2010

The Defence Force has revealed a New Zealand soldier killed in an ambush in Afghanistan died in the initial explosion of a roadside bomb.

Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell, 28, was killed and two other soldiers and an Afghan interpreter wounded when the four-vehicle patrol he was leading was attacked by insurgents in Bamyan province on Tuesday.

Joint Forces Commander Air-Vice Marshal Peter Stockwell says it has now been determined that Lieutenant O'Donnell and those injured were travelling in the lead vehicle, an armoured Humvee, which was destroyed by the bomb.

Lance Corporal Matthew Ball and Private Allister Baker were injured in the attack and suffered burns and broken bones. The interpreter, who has minor eye wound, has been treated at the New Zealand base in Bamyan.

Air Vice-Marshal Stockwell told Checkpoint on Thursday that the Humvee was destroyed in the initial blast, and they are reasonably certain that Lieutenant O'Donnell would have died instantly and not have suffered.

Air Vice-Marshall Stockwell says a military-equipped Toyota Hilux travelling close behind was immobilised by the explosion and the soldiers later destroyed this vehicle to stop it from getting into enemy hands.

The injured soldiers, who are in a stable condition, and the body are now at Bagram airbase near the capital Kabul.

Air Vice-Marshal Stockwell says a 757 Air Force plane is in Malaysia awaiting clearance to travel to the United Arab Emirates to meet a coalition plane to evacuate them.

He says all things going well, the soldiers are expected to be back in New Zealand by Saturday night (NZ time).

Meanwhile, the father of Lance Corporal Ball says he is still waiting to speak with his son and find out the full extent of his injuries.

Allan Ball says the family has been communicating through his son's commanding officer and he hopes to speak to his son on Thursday night and find out how serious his burns are.

Mr Ball says his family is holding up well and realises the situation could have been worse.

Amoured Humvee 'right vehicle' for job

A forensic investigation is under way at the scene of the ambush and a court of inquiry will examine exactly what happened, who was responsible and what lessons about equipment and training can be learned.

However, Air Vice-Marshall Stockwell believes more heavily-armoured vehicles in Afghanistan are not needed.

He says given the mountainous terrain, heavier vehicles would put New Zealand soldiers at greater risk, as the roads and bridges in Bamyan are of a poor quality and could not support them.

"Right now, we think that the armoured Humvee is the right vehicle, given the state of the roads, where we're trying to operate and the nature of the threat."

Farewell ceremony for lieutenant

The Defence Force says leaders of the Bamyan provincial government and the local police have attended a simple and sombre ceremony to farewell Lieutenant O'Donnell.

It says the provincial governor and the acting provincial chief of police attended, along with some of Lieutenant O'Donnell's colleagues.

Lieutenant O'Donnell, of Feilding, was serving in the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, as part of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan.

Defence Force chief Jerry Mateparae, Air Vice-Marshal Stockwell and Defence Minister Wayne Mapp met with Lieutenant O'Donnell's family on Thursday to express their condolences.