18 Aug 2009

McCully defends sending troops to Afghanistan

10:07 pm on 18 August 2009

The National Government was forced to defend its plan to send SAS troops back to Afghanistan during a snap debate in Parliament on Tuesday.

The Cabinet has approved the return of the elite troops and plans to withdraw the Provincial Reconstruction Team from Bamyan province over the next three to five years.

Greens MP Keith Locke led the debate on Tuesday, saying his party opposes the redeployment of SAS troops.

Mr Locke told the House the Greens do not want New Zealand soldiers fighting and dying in an unjustifiable war that is not helping the Afghan people.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira agreed that SAS troops should not be sent and questioned whether the decision was in New Zealand's best interests.

"In terms of our international responsibility every nation should examine its role in this so-called war on terror. And we do need to correct that phrase - because it's no longer a war on terror, it's a war of terror."

Labour Party leader Phil Goff told MPs he could not understand why the Government is scaling back the reconstruction team, which is working well, and carries a lower risk than sending SAS troops.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully defended the Government's position, saying the decision was not made lightly.

"New Zealand nationals travel in planes; they stay in hotel rooms, they stay in resorts. Where terrorists strike around the world, the chances are New Zealanders will be at risk. All New Zealanders today have a strong interest in reducing the threat of international terrorism."

Mr McCully told MPs it is in New Zealand's interest to take part in the renewed international commitment in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, violence is continuing in Afghanistan ahead of presidential elections on Thursday.

In the latest incidents, a suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of foreign troops on the road linking the capital Kabul with the eastern city of Jalalabad on Tuesday.

The United Nations has a large compound in the area.

Earlier, two rockets hit targets in Kabul, causing damage to the presidential palace but no casualties have been reported.