14 Aug 2008

Afghan villagers preventing attacks on NZ troops

6:17 pm on 14 August 2008

The Defence Force has revealed villagers in Afghanistan are standing between New Zealand troops and insurgents who want to attack them.

Terrorist-funded attackers frequently ask to bomb the troops, but locals who have good relations with the New Zealanders are refusing them permission.

Although the tribal situation in the country has been likened to the Monty Python film, Life of Brian, the requests are coming from an increasingly savvy insurgency, which favours hard-to-spot improvised explosive devices as their weapon of choice.

The Defence Force says good relations with ethnic groups are their best form of defence against increasingly sophisticated and hard-to-spot roadside bombs.

It says the main bombing threats to New Zealand personnel in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan come from tribal groups wanting economic dominance.

The troops are part of a Provincial Reconstruction team, which includes conducting mobile medical clinics.

The Commander of the Joint Forces, Major General Rhys Jones, says troop safety comes down to whether fighters funded by the Taliban, or the New Zealand personnel, have more pull with the locals.

Major General Jones says the requests are made frequently and it's only the New Zealanders' good relationships with local people which means they continue to say no to the requests.

"It's very confusing because it is very similar to the Life of Brian in terms of the mixture of who influences who and who combines with who at any particular stage," he says.

He says it's now known an improvised explosive device which hit a New Zealand patrol in March was deliberately targeted at New Zealand troops, and was carried out by a group funded by the Taliban.

In for the long haul

Major General Rhys Jones says foreign military involvement will be needed in Afghanistan for another decade as there is still a lot of work to do in removing the underlying forces of the conflict.

He says it will take a decade for Afghanistan to feel like a unified country, because it's divided along tribal lines.

The Defence Minister, Phil Goff, says New Zealand has a commitment to Afghanistan until September 2010.

But Mr Goff says the Government will shortly consider a paper which proposes increasing that in increments, over an unspecified timeline.