Combat Deaths Explain Increase In Defence Fatalities

5 March 2013

  •  Eight combat deaths in Afghanistan since 2010 
  • Including combat, NZDF has fewer fatalities than fishing or forestry  
  • Rates of suicide in the NZDF lower than national suicide rates

The changing security environment in Afghanistan that led to eight combat fatalities between 2010 and 2012 explains a rise in deaths within the New Zealand Defence Force over the past decade.

The New Zealand Defence Force says between 2002 and 2012 there were 38 fatalities from all sources – combat, accidents and suicide. However, when recent combat deaths from Afghanistan are removed from the picture there has not been any significant increase in those killed in the past six years with those of the preceding six years.

In 2010 Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell was killed in Afghanistan, New Zealand’s first combat fatality in that theatre despite New Zealand having been in Afghanistan in large numbers since 2001. In 2011 separate combat incidents in Kabul claimed the lives of Corporal Doug Grant and Lance Corporal Leon Smith and in 2012 two separate incidents in Bamyan province killed Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer, and then Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris.

The New Zealand Defence Force says these combat deaths are in large part attributable to the well documented changing security situation in Afghanistan, especially the focus of insurgents in the North East of Bamyan province, where New Zealand’s Provincial Reconstruction Team operated.

The Defence Force points out that the average New Zealand fatality rate for those in hazardous occupations – for example fishing or forestry is 3.5 per 10,000 pa, where by comparison "workplace" fatality rates for NZ Defence Force, including combat fatalities, have been calculated as 2.4 per 10,000 pa.

Looking at the Defence Force’s non-combat fatality data, in the six years between 2008 and 2012 the Defence Force had eight fatalities stemming from workplace accidents/misadventure, exactly the same number it had between 2002 and 2007. These range from years with no accident-related fatalities (2002, 2003, 2006, and 2008) to four fatalities in 2005 and five in 2010. Both years at the higher end of the range having had a single accident that took three lives – a Unimog truck crash in February 2005 and the ANZAC Day helicopter crash of April 2010.

Looking at Defence Force personnel who took their own life, again the numbers in the past six years are similar to the previous period. Between 2002 and 2007 there were six suicides, compared with eight in total between 2008-2012. In any given year the Defence Force experiences on average around one suicide per year, (with the range being between zero and three suicides in any year).

It is worth noting that the national suicide rate (all age and gender) is 1.25/10000 pa, while the national suicide rate (15-24yrs) is 1.78/10,000 pa. This compares historically to a rate within the NZ Defence Force of 1.0/10,000 pa.




3 August 2010:

Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell (28) was killed in an attack on a New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team patrol in Bamyan province. LT O’Donnell served with 2/1 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (2/1 RNZIR), based in Burnham.

19 August 2011:

Corporal Douglas (Dougie) Grant (41) was killed as part of the NZSAS Task Force responding to an insurgent attack on the British Council Office in the centre of Kabul.

28 September 2011:

Lance Corporal Leon Smith (33), was killed when the NZSAS unit was supporting a group from the Afghan Crisis Response Unit serve an arrest warrant in a compound suspected to house suicide bombers in Wardak Province, south east of Kabul.

4 August 2012:

Lance Corporal Rory Malone (26) and Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer (26) were killed responding to an insurgent force in Bamyan province Afghanistan.

19 August 2012:

Corporal Luke Tamatea (31), Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker (26) Private Richard Harris (21) were killed in an IED incident in Bamyan province Afghanistan. All three were from 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (2/1 RNZIR) based in Burnham.

Prior to these deaths, New Zealand’s previous combat fatality was Private Leonard Manning (24) who was killed in an ambush on his patrol in East Timor on 24 July 2000.





This page was last reviewed on 6 March 2013.