THE Defence Forces says it is considering an air strike against those responsible for killing three New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan.
The trio – Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, of Kawerau, medic Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26 of Christchurch, and Private Richard Harris, 21, of Pukekohe – died when their humvee vehicle was hit by roadside bomb in Bamiyan Province.
They were part of a convoy taking a patrol member to see a doctor at Romero base.
A second bomb was located but was disarmed, and the attack happened near where two other Kiwi soldiers – Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer – were killed earlier in the month.
Head of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones told 3 News that along with Afghan police, they would track down the bomb makers.
Air strikes would be considered.
“Possibly one of the actions they need to take is a strike, but the ISAF special forces will be the ones who would undertake that,” Jones said.
“We might be contributing intelligence and some planning support, depending on how that intelligence or how that support is provided.”
Baker was the first female soldier killed in action since the Vietnam war.
In total there were 10 women serving in Bamiyan, and two more at a United States airbase at Bagram.
Harris, who joined the army three years ago, was driving the vehicle and had previously toured Timor-Leste.
Tamatea was a 12-year veteran and was on his second tour of Afghanistan, having also served in Timor, the Solomon Islands and helped with tsunami recovery in Sumatra.
“The group that we are operating against is very proficient and we know they have other IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”
A specialist team was with the troops helping with the psychological impacts of the five recent deaths.
Prime Minister John Key told a press conference, also attended by Jones and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman, that the soldiers’ sacrifice would not be forgotten.
Ministers had for some weeks been considering options for an ”orderly withdrawal” from Afghanistan.
A decision was still to be made but it was likely to take place in the earlier part of 2013, Key said.
“There is no question we are coming home.”
He said keeping troops in Afghanistan was a hard call.
“Every time I get a phone call from the Defence Minister or the Chief of the Defence Force about this, it is a gut-wrenching experience. I want our boys and girls to come home.”
In total 10 New Zealand soldiers had died in Afghanistan.
Coleman said it was ”absolutely gutting” to be delivering such news again so soon after last week’s funerals for Malone and Durrer.
”This is the most terrible day that could ever be visited on loved ones of a service person.”
There were three large New Zealand bases with about 150 troops and the soldiers were supporting New Zealand aid workers in the province.
The blast was attributed to bomb makers who were part of a new insurgent group the New Zealanders had been targeting.