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Two New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghan attack

Two New Zealand soldiers have been killed and six wounded in a battle in central Afghanistan, Prime Minister John Key said today, while ruling out the possibility of an accelerated troop pull out.

world Updated: Aug 07, 2012 10:26 IST

Two New Zealand soldiers have been killed and six wounded in a battle in central Afghanistan, Prime Minister John Key said today, while ruling out the possibility of an accelerated troop pull out.

The deaths bring to seven the number of New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan since deployment to the war-torn country.

"It's a day of great tragedy," Key told a media conference.

"For New Zealand, a small country, losing seven of our men is an enormous price to pay. It reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the province."

The soldiers were killed in an attack yesterday when they went to the aid of local security forces who encountered suspected insurgents near a village in the central province of Bamiyan.

Two local security personnel were also killed in the attack while six New Zealand soldiers, 10 local security personnel and a civilian were injured.

The New Zealand Defence Force said the soldiers were members of the NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) which has been based in Bamiyan for the past nine years.

"We are deeply saddened by this loss and, on behalf of the entire New Zealand Defence Force, I extend my deepest sympathies to the family, colleagues and friends of the personnel involved," defence chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said.

The brief gunfight erupted around 12.30 IST on Saturday when a branch of the Afghan police came under fire while attempting to arrest an insurgent.

The New Zealand troops were called in to help stabilise the situation and were attacked by a separate group of insurgents, Jones said.

"Some anti-tank fire was put onto our armoured vehicles, as well as small arms fire -- rifles, machine guns -- on to our troops.

"We suffered two dead and the remaining six wounded in about a two-to-three-minute time frame."

Key confirmed the attack would not affect the scheduled withdrawal of New Zealand troops from Afghanistan next year.

The government announced in May the 145 troops in Bamiyan would be withdrawn in late 2013, a year ahead of schedule, after paving the way for an early handover to local authorities.

Foreign minister Murray McCully said the early departure "reflects the outstanding work that New Zealand PRT personnel have done to prepare the province for transition to local control".