New Zealand records first death in Afghanistan with 1 soldier killed, 2 seriously wounded

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand suffered its first combat fatality in Afghanistan when a soldier died in an ambush that left another two New Zealand soldiers and an Afghan interpreter wounded, an official said on Wednesday.

The three wounded in the attack Tuesday in central Bamiyan province sustained serious injuries that were not life threatening, New Zealand Defense Force Chief Lt. Gen. Jerry Mateparae told reporters in Wellington.

A three-vehicle New Zealand patrol was attacked with an improvised explosive device, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, Mateparae said.

The Defense Department said the dead soldier, Lt. Tim O'Donnell, 28, of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, had been decorated for valor while serving with U.N. peace keepers in East Timor. He died while serving with the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Bamiyan.

O'Donnell was the first New Zealand serviceman killed in combat since a soldier died in East Timor in 2000. New Zealand first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2003.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, attending a forum of South Pacific leaders in Vanuatu, said the attack would not hasten the withdrawal of New Zealand troops from Afghanistan.

"This is New Zealand's first combat loss in Afghanistan and reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the province," Key said in a statement.

New Zealand's 140-strong provincial reconstruction team of troops in Bamiyan had been expected to end their seven-year deployment in September. However, Key said in May the posting will roll over for another year, then start reducing as civilian specialists are introduced.

New Zealand also has 40 Special Air Service elite combat troops in Afghanistan.