N.Z. PM praises soldier killed in Afghan 'friendly fire'

7th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister John Key led tributes Tuesday for a New Zealand national serving in the British army who was killed in a possible friendly fire incident in Afghanistan over the weekend.

Key said the British embassy in Wellington had informed him about the death of the soldier, whom an embassy spokesman named as New Zealand citizen Jack Howard, aged 23.

Key refused to comment on the circumstances surrounding the New Zealander's death in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province Sunday, which NATO and Britain said was being investigated as a possible friendly fire incident.

"Obviously it's very sad," Key told reporters. "We want to pass our condolences to the family."

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Monday the soldier "may have been killed from coalition forces air support during an operation in Nad Ali district".

At the time, Afghan and coalition troops were fighting enemy forces and requested close air support to suppress the enemy fire, it said.

New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said he had seen reports that friendly fire was to blame for the soldier's death and was awaiting the outcome of the British investigation.

The Ministry of Defence in London had said Howard was British, but the spokesman at the Wellington High Commission said that he was not believed to hold dual nationality.

New Zealand media said Howard was a Wellington man who joined the British Army's Parachute Regiment in 2007 after dropping out of university.

Opposition Labour Party leader Phil Goff, whose nephew was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the US army in 2007, offered his sympathy to the dead man's family, who live in New Zealand.

"Having been through that experience myself, my heart goes out to the family of the young man who was killed," Goff told reporters.

The New Zealand military suffered its only combat fatality in Afghanistan in August when a soldier was killed on patrol in Bamiyan.

But another four New Zealanders have now died in Afghanistan serving with foreign forces, two with the Australian military, one with the United States and the latest one with Britain.

New Zealand's defence force has 70 special forces troops in Afghanistan, believed to be operating in Kabul, as well as 140 personnel carrying out reconstruction work in Bamiyan.

© 2010 AFP

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