Kiwis in Afghanistan to protect gains

JONATHAN COLEMAN - DEFENCE MINISTER
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2013
jonathan coleman
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ

JONATHAN COLEMAN: "While it is true that it is unwise to ignore the lessons of history, the fact is that because of New Zealand's efforts, massive gains have been made for the people of Bamyan province."

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OPINION: Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman explains why New Zealand is not leaving Afghanistan.

New Zealand has played an important role in the international effort in Afghanistan for well over a decade.

In the early days of the campaign we helped root out al Qaeda, then in 2003 deployed a Provincial Reconstruction Team to Bamyan to stabilise and aid in the recovery of a province that had suffered under Taliban rule.

Later, the SAS was redeployed to Kabul to help the Afghan Crisis Response Unit build its capacity as one of Afghanistan's premier counter-terrorism units.

It has been service that has come at the cost of 10 New Zealand lives, sacrifices that have been felt deeply across the nation. Other New Zealanders have been wounded in Afghanistan and have had their futures inextricably altered as a result.

Over the same period, New Zealand citizens have died in some of the world's most high profile terrorist actions since 9/11 – the Bali bombing, the London Tube bombing and the Jakarta Hotel bombing.

That is why New Zealand has continued to support the international effort in Afghanistan so that it cannot again become a haven for al Qaeda and an incubator for international terrorism. Not only is it important to secure the gains of the past decade, but it is also in New Zealand's own interest to be part of the collective security effort to safeguard the future stability of that country.

Cynics point to the historical record, tell you that no nation has ever won in Afghanistan and complain that New Zealand is expending effort in a country where corruption is rife.

While it is true that it is unwise to ignore the lessons of history, the fact is that because of New Zealand's efforts, massive gains have been made for the people of Bamyan province, especially women and children. Before we arrived education and health services in the province were rudimentary, and women and girls were treated appallingly under the Taliban. New Zealand's efforts have seen reconstruction of the hospital and the building of educational facilities.

In 2001 there were fewer than 15 schools open – there are now 353. Almost half primary school children in Bamyan are girls, while 38 per cent of teachers are female and many Bamyan teachers have been aided by New Zealand-supported teachers' training programmes. There are now 2700 students at Bamyan University, 15 per cent of whom are women.

Our support to the health sector has helped significantly reduce both the maternal mortality rate and the mortality rate for children under 5. In the Taliban era there were only two doctors working in the province. Now health care facilities are available across the province, and health professionals include 40 doctors and 150 midwives.

We have also contributed Kiwi money and expertise to major agricultural projects and a solar power project that will provide access to electricity to approximately 2500 homes, businesses and government buildings in Bamyan town. It will be the largest solar-energy system built in Afghanistan and will make a significant contribution to living standards and economic development.

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As to the question of whether the gains in Afghanistan are sustainable, and whether the coalition can " win there, the point is that unlike the armies of history, the ISAF coalition does not want to remain in Afghanistan in the long term. For much of the past 10 years, therefore, ISAF's effort has been largely directed at building Afghan capacity in security and governance so that ultimately the country can stand safe, secure and stable on its own. There is no doubt though that the international community can do so much, but ultimately the will of the Afghan people will determine whether their nation prospers.

If Afghanistan is to continue along the trajectory towards a relatively secure future, it will require on-going international support. This year the wider coalition effort is moving from leading the military mission to supporting and mentoring the Afghan forces so they can manage their own security. That is why New Zealand has announced that following the withdrawal of our Provincial Reconstruction Team in April, New Zealand will continue to make a small but significant contribution to the international security effort in Afghanistan.

Our 27 people will be in headquarters, intelligence, planning and training roles. None will be in front-line combat roles, but they will all be making a valuable niche contribution to a collective effort. Likewise, New Zealand-funded development programmes in Bamyan in renewable energy, agriculture, education and health will continue beyond the PRT.

New Zealanders should be proud of the efforts of our service people over the past 10 years in helping secure and rebuild Afghanistan. It is important now that we help see the job through.

- The Dominion Post

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