4 Sep 2012

NZ confirms Afghan pullout date

6:08 am on 4 September 2012

The New Zealand Government has formally confirmed it will bring troops home from Afghanistan by the end of April 2013.

New Zealand troops have been in Afghanistan with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan province and on operations with the Special Air Service (SAS) since 2003. The SAS finished its deployment in March.

The withdrawal will follow the expected handover of responsibility to Afghan forces at the beginning of October this year.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said on Monday the announcement is the culmination of months of planning and is part of an orderly NATO plan for transition.

Dr Coleman says the troops must leave before May next year, after which time Bamyan airport will not be available to Hercules flights due to a major runway upgrade by the Japanese government.

Prime Minister John Key says there are a range of reasons why the troops are returning before May.

"In particular, how it fits with ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) planning and logistical considerations. The availability of the Bamyan runway was also a critical factor."

But the Green Party believes the Government should be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan sooner. MP Kennedy Graham says it would have been possible to get them home in October this year.

"We think they should be out as soon as possible and we think it's probably possible to have them out operationally before the end of this year before the winter sets in. That would have been our preference."

The Government says though the Provincial Reconstruction Team is being withdrawn, it does not mean the end of New Zealand's commitment to Afghanistan.

It says there is likely to be a small number of Defence Force trainers going to a training academy in Afghanistan later next year, an on-going presence in ISAF headquarters, as well as financial and development contributions to the country.

Ten New Zealand soldiers have lost their lives while serving in Afghanistan, including five in August this year.