8 Nov 2012

Dangerous time as troops prepare to exit Afghanistan

9:44 pm on 8 November 2012

The Defence Force says New Zealand's troops in Afghanistan will be most in danger when removing their light-armoured vehicles from their base.

The troops are preparing to leave Bamyan province by the end of April 2013.

The commander of joint forces, Major-General Dave Gawn, held a briefing for media on Thursday on the Defence Force's current operations.

Most of the Defence Force's equipment and its 195 personnel will leave Afghanistan by air, but its 10 light armoured vehicles (LAVs) will have to be driven to Bagram military base through neighbouring Parwan province.

Major-General Gawn says that route is frequently cut off by Taleban insurgents and believes it will be the worst period that troops will encounter from now until when they depart.

Prime Minister John Key had signalled that some of the vehicles might be left behind, but Major Gawn said the Defence Force decided against this, as the LAVs are the most technically capable it has and were too valuable to leave behind.

Major Gawn says the troops have learnt a great deal during their time in Afghanistan, particularly about how to deal with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

"That threat, more than any other, is one that will continue to grow throughout the world. It is the easiest weapon to put together and it can defeat anything - and I do mean anything, because all you do is, you build a bigger bomb."

Major Gawn does not think the Taliban have the capacity to attack New Zealand's base as it winds down its operation, as it is in the middle of a very safe region.

"They've been very clever at being able to penetrate places like Kabul and Kandahar right into the main bases. I'll never say never, but I think it will be difficult."

Future plans

New Zealand has also begun withdrawing from East Timor. Major Gawn says often people leave the military when overseas operations end and the Defence Force is already battling an attrition rate of more than 20%.

"Soldiers come back and if they've been away on four or five missions, their families get sick of it and there's a time where you'll transfer your allegiance from the organisation to the family.

"Some of them have had the adventure that they want and want to try something else."

Major Gawn says as the operations in Afghanistan and East Timor come to an end,the Defence Force is focusing on developing its future capabilities.

"There'll be a lot of preparing for we call it the next war, the next operation - wherever it is that the New Zealand Government wishes us to go."

The Defence Force is also setting up a Joint Amphibious Task Force which will be in place by 2015.