29 Jul 2009

Troops likely to stay in Afghanistan, hints Key

9:58 pm on 29 July 2009

The Government looks set to send New Zealand's elite SAS troops back to Afghanistan, with a final decision due within weeks.

Prime Minister John Key on Monday gave his clearest signal yet that New Zealand will agree to the United States' request for an increased military presence.

Cabinet is due to receive advice by mid-August on the Defence Force's presence in Bamiyan province, and whether the SAS should be redeployed to Afghanistan.

Mr Key wants to have a withdrawal strategy in place, but says he is sympathetic to the position that New Zealanders live all around the world and are vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

He says that if control is lost in Afghanistan it could become a breeding ground for global terrorism and that would not be in New Zealand's best interests.

Mr Key says no decision has yet been taken on deploying the SAS, although he is keen to end New Zealand's six-year military commitment in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province.

Labour leader Phil Goff says he remains to be convinced New Zealand should send combat troops back to Afghanistan.

Auckland University associate professor Dr Steve Hoadley told Morning Report he believes New Zealand's reconstruction deployment is likely to continue at least until September 2010 and could well be extended.

Public divided, poll shows

A public opinion poll shows New Zealanders are divided about whether to send THE troops back to Afghanistan.

A Research New Zealand telephone poll of 500 people carried out between 6 July and 9 July found 47% were in favour of complying with the United States' suggestion to send a contingent back to Afghanistan.

Of those polled, 44% opposed the idea and 9% did not know.

Sixty-one percent of people agreed with the Government's decision to extend New Zealand soldiers' tour of duty for reconstruction duties until September 2010, while 26% disagreed.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5%.

Britain ends five-week Taliban offensive

Britain announced the end of a five-week offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan on Monday, saying it had succeeded in driving militants out of population centres.

Hours after commanders announced the successful conclusion of the operation, two more soldiers were killed, bringing the death toll in July to 22, the deadliest month since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001.

The operation involved about 3,000 British troops backed by US, Danish and other NATO units in Helmand province.

The offensive is part of a series of operations that Western forces have launched ahead of Afghanistan's presidential and provincial elections on 20 August.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, addressing NATO ambassadors in Brussels on Monday, said Afghanistan would require a long-term political solution and that efforts were under way to draw softer elements of the Taliban into the political process.

The aim would be to pull conservative Pashtun nationalists, from where the Taliban draws its support, away from the insurgency, "separating those who want Islamic rule locally from those committed to violent jihad globally", he said.

'Taliban truce' shortlived

Afghanistan struck its first ceasefire with the Taliban in a remote province, the government said, but the truce lasted only hours before clashes broke out.

The truce in Badghis was reached on Saturday, presidential spokesman Seyamak Herawi said, and the government wanted to make similar deals with the Taliban in other parts of the country in a bid to improve security for the election.

However Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said several hours later "enemies of peace and stability" - a term often used to describe Taliban insurgents - had ambushed police in Badghis. Two insurgents were killed and two police wounded, it said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf earlier said there was no ceasefire with the government anywhere in Afghanistan.