9 Sep 2009

PM defends sending SAS back to Afghanistan

7:00 am on 9 September 2009

Prime Minister John Key has defended the decision to send elite SAS troops back to Afghanistan, during a rowdy Question Time in Parliament on Tuesday.

Papers obtained by Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act confirm that officials believe the security situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better.

Radio New Zealand's political editor says references to the deployment of Special Air Services troops appear to have been deleted, but the papers do make clear the need for international forces led by the United States to impose greater security in Afghanistan.

That is the argument Mr Key used as he parried questions from Labour Party leader Phil Goff in the House on Tuesday.

Mr Key also quoted from when Mr Goff was Defence Minister to justify the new combat role for the SAS.

However, Mr Goff says the situation has changed - and that is why the previous Labour-led Government had not sent the SAS back to Afghanistan in the previous three years.

Tour of duty

In August, Mr Key announced SAS will be in Afghanistan for 18 months, in three rotations, with up to 70 troops serving at any one time.

The Prime Minister said decision made by the Cabinet stemmed from a review of New Zealand's commitment to maintaining security and stability in Afghanistan.

He believes New Zealand has a direct and vital interest in supporting international efforts to eradicate terrorism, and to promote peace and stability.

At the same time, Mr Key announced that the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan province will be wound back over the next three to five years.

Instead, there will be a focus on providing civilian help - particularly in the areas of health, education and agriculture.