19 Apr 2012

NZ troops may leave Afghanistan early

12:30 pm on 19 April 2012

New Zealand troops in Afghanistan could be pulled out earlier than the agreed 2014 deadline.

Some 140 New Zealand soldiers are still serving as part of the provincial reconstruction team in Bamyan province, although the Special Air Service finished their deployment at the end of last month.

Prime Minister John Key says it is possible troops could leave Bamyan earlier than 2014, provided NATO agreed with the arrangement.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully is in Brussels for a meeting of foreign affairs and defence ministers of nations involved in NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He says there should be an announcement about the future of New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan the next few weeks.

Mr McCully says Bamyan is likely to be one of the first provinces where the transition to local control is completed.

"Quite how quickly that will happen is something that I'll get a closer fix on over the next few days here in Brussels.

"We're certainly getting signals that it will be earlier than had been expected."

The Labour Party's foreign affairs spokesperson, Phil Goff, says it is time for the New Zealand Defence Force to withdraw altogether from Bamyan, which should be one of the first provinces to implement an exit strategy for international forces.

Mr Goff says New Zealand needs to wind up its role over the next 12 months.

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard outlined plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan early.

Ms Gillard said security had improved in Afghanistan and the majority of Australian troops would probably leave next year rather than by 2014.

Strategic analyst Paul Buchanan believes there are domestic pressures on both Australia and New Zealand to bring troops home early, given the solution in Afghanistan is political not military.