Keeping troops in Afghanistan 'a legacy commitment'

KATE CHAPMAN AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 08:12 19/02/2013

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Prime Minister John Key says the decision to keep 27 soldiers in Afghanistan after the withdrawal date is not a u-turn.

A contingent of 27 military personnel, including three crack SAS soldiers, will stay on for a year under an extension of the deployment approved by Cabinet.

The 140-strong provincial reconstruction team (PRT) is due to pull out of Bamiyan province by the end of April but Key said a "small niche" contribution would remain, mainly in the capital Kabul, to work with other international forces.

Asked in November when the small team of SAS soldiers working with the Bamiyan forces in an intelligence and planning role was due to leave, Key said their mandate allowed them to stay until April.

But yesterday he said they would stay longer as "a legacy commitment" .

Labour says that's a broken promise.

But Key said New Zealand must stay on to honour the commitment made to Afghanistan - including the death of 10 defence force personnel.

"It makes sense for us to ensure that there's a transition."

Troops were leaving Bamiyan because that was one of the easiest areas to begin the transition in, Key told Radio New Zealand.

The 27-strong team that would remain would operate "behind the wire", in training and support roles.

The commitment was for a year, and longer in some cases, but would be be reviewed later this year.

"They're there to make sure that Afghanistan can continue to look after itself and that decade [of past] work is not lost."

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the 27 would be based mainly in Kabul.

Eight would work with the UK-led Afghan National Army Officer Training Academy.

Twelve would be posted to ISAF Special Operations Forces headquarters, employed mainly in intelligence and planning.

Three would be based at ISAF headquarters and three in a support role as part of New Zealand's "National Support Element".

One officer would be with the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.

Labour defence spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway said the deployment was a new mission in a new area with a whole new mandate that extended New Zealand's commitment indefinitely.

"The Government made a promise to withdraw our armed forces from Afghanistan by April. It's reneged on that promise," he said.

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