7 Dec 2010

Family speaks of NZ soldier killed in Afghanistan

11:14 pm on 7 December 2010

The father of the New Zealand paratrooper killed serving with the British Army in Afghanistan says his son was the fourth generation of his family to serve as a soldier.

Private Jack Howard may have been fired upon by a United States aircraft. He was 23.

A member of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, he was on patrol in the Nad'Ali district of Helmand province, in the south-west of the country.

His parents, Roger Howard and Anne Scott, along with his sisters Charlotte and Isabelle appeared at a news conference in Wellington on Tuesday afternoon, saying they are devastated.

Anne Scott says they are preparing to leave for England soon, where Private Howard's body is being repatriated to.

She says they are waiting to hear what he said in his will but they are assuming he would want a military service because "he was so passionate about the military, and it was his life".

Roger Howard says his son was immensely proud to be both a paratrooper and a New Zealander.

He says, however, the knock on the door by military personnel informing them of his death was not unexpected. Mr Howard says his son had warned them it would happen one day.

Condolences from PM, Minister

Prime Minister John Key described the death as a very sad event.

Mr Key says his condolences go to the family, while Labour leader Phil Goff also says his heart goes out to Mr Howard's relatives.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says the New Zealand Defence Force is giving support to the family in the tragic situation.

He says all New Zealand's young men and women who serve in Afghanistan are at risk, but for each family when the worst happens, they bear a very heavy price.

He says Private Howard had been in the British Army nearly three years.

Dr Mapp says the British Government will undertake a full investigation into what happened.

Defence Force prayers

In a statement, the Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae, says the force's thoughts and prayers go out to Private Howard's family and the British Defence Force.

Mr Mateparae says the loss is felt particularly deeply by the New Zealand Defence Force, given Private Howard and his father both previously served in the force.

The newly-named Chief of Defence Force, Major General Rhys Jones, says Private Howard died protecting what he considered important.

US aircraft involved, says Britain's MoD

In a statement, Britain's Ministry of Defence says Private Howard was shot and died from his wounds on Sunday.

"First reports indicate that an attack on an insurgent position by a US aircraft, requested by and agreed with British Forces on the ground, may have been the cause," the MoD said in a statement.

His body will be repatriated to Britain.

Journalist Ben Farmer, in Afghanistan for Britain's Telegraph newspaper, says it's thought Private Howard's patrol called in an air-strike after they were ambushed by Taliban fighters.

A spokesperson for the Helmand taskforce, Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, says he made the "ultimate sacrifice protecting the people of Nad 'Ali from insurgent intimidation".

The Telegraph reports he was killed during particularly bad weather conditions after a sand storm and haze led to very low visibility. The Guardian says the incident involved cannon fire from a low-flying US aircraft.