21 Aug 2012

PM confirms Afghan withdrawal in 2013

10:13 pm on 21 August 2012

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed the Government intends bringing New Zealand troops back from Afghanistan in April 2013 before work starts on the rebuilding of Bamyan airport.

Japan is set to begin the work in May and New Zealand troops would not be able to leave by air after this time.

Moving the 145 personnel by road would be unsafe - particularly as they would most likely be travelling in unprotected vehicles.

Mr Key says the Cabinet will decide the exact date of withdrawal in the next few weeks.

Labour Party leader David Shearer supports the plan, but the Green Party says the Government should bring the troops home in October this year when the next rotation will take place.

Co-leader Russel Norman says the mission in Afghanistan has lost its way and it is time for the New Zealanders to come home.

Dr Norman says it is clear there is a lot of political pressure on New Zealand to stay in Afghanistan and questions why the troops can't come home this year.

Mr Key says there are three bases in operation in Afghanistan and it will be a big logistical job to pack them up.

NZ may help in hunt for bomb-maker

The Defence Force says it may go after the bomb-maker responsible for the improvised explosive device that killed three New Zealand soldiers in Bamyan province - but that would be carried out by special forces from other coalition countries serving in Afghanistan.

Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris from the Provincial Reconstruction Team died instantly when their Humvee was blown up by an improvised explosive device on Sunday.

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand's SAS will provide some help with planning and intelligence, but there is no point sending them back in a combat role.

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones says New Zealand should have approval within days to widen its patrols into southern Baghlan, which borders Bamyan province, to pick up the slack left by Hungarian troops not patrolling that area.

General Jones says the insurgent group is very proficient and has other bombs and people have to accept there may well be more casualties.

Five New Zealand soldiers have died in a month, while the total number killed in Afghanistan since deployments began is 10.

More deaths feared

Former Afghan foreign minister Najibullah Lafraie fears there will be more deaths in Afghanistan.

Mr Lafraie, the minister from 1992-96 and now a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Otago, believes New Zealand troops should limit their activities and suggestions they should extend their patrolling from Bamyan to Baghlan province are unwise.

Robert Ayson, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, says the latest five deaths have made the public question the troop deployments to Afghanistan.

However, Mr Ayson says that should not undermine the achievements of New Zealand in Afghanistan. He says Afghanistan would be a less stable country if troops had not been sent there.