NZ troops out of Afghanistan a year early
JOHN HARTEVELT AND VERNON SMALL
New Zealand's mission in Afghanistan will end one year earlier than planned, the Government has confirmed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully announced a late 2013 withdrawal for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan at a Nato Summit in Chicago.
McCully said formal transition of control in Bamiyan from Kiwi to Afghan forces would be concluded "later" this year and the PRT would be withdrawn "later in 2013".
SAS forces returned from service in Afghanistan earlier this year but the PRT was scheduled to stay on leading transition in Bamiyan until 2014.
Prime Minister John Key has left the door open to handing over some of the defence force's Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Afghans when Kiwi troops pull out.
Key this morning said some equipment would be left, that could be beneficial.
Governor Sarabi of Bamiyan province, where New Zealand leads the provincial reconstruction team, wanted to beef up the capacity of the local police in preparation for the handover, including arming a ready reaction force.
Key said the last advice he had was that the LAvs were likely to come home.
"If there is a significant request we will obviously work our way through that. At this point we haven't had that request."
After looking at all the hardware it was possible something would be left behind for the locals.
The defence force acquired over 100 LAVs and it has deployed about eight to Afghanistan at any one time.
At least two have been damaged by insurgent attacks.
Key said pulling out in 2013 was part of the wider withdrawal of Nato forces.
New Zealand would make a contribution to supporting the rule of law out to 2015.
"We want to build up the capacity for the Afghans to run their own country - the way to do that is to have an orderly exit."
Bamiyan was one of the safest provinces.
When Australia announced last month it would start pulling its troops out earlier, from mid-2013, McCully conceded an earlier departure for New Zealand was also possible.
This morning he revealed he had discussed an earlier transition with senior Afghan ministers "and other partners" at a recent meeting of foreign ministers from the 50 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries.
"All have agreed to our proposal that the PRT wind up its role in the latter part of 2013," McCully said.
"[It] reflects the outstanding work that New Zealand PRT personnel have done to prepare the province for transition to local control."
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman had last month discussed the transition with Governor Sarabi to make sure of a "full understanding" about the completion of the transition process.
"Over the coming weeks a specialist team will visit Bamiyan to draw up a detailed plan for the wind down in the province. We are intent on ensuring that the province is well prepared for the next steps and that major development projects are completed," McCully said.
"New Zealand-funded agricultural projects and the new solar energy plant will be substantively completed, as will the Japanese-funded sealing of the airport runway. Training of the new Provincial Quick Reaction Force will also have concluded."
Continued contributions from New Zealand would include a "small number of training officers" available to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy from 2013.
A three-year commitment of $2.6m per year had been made to Afghan National Security Force rule of law projects in Bamiyan, and there would be "an on-going development presence in the province".
"Today's announcement is a significant milestone, reflecting the huge contribution made by New Zealand in Afghanistan since 2003. It will be important that we remain focused and committed to ensure a smooth completion of the transition process," McCully said.
The Nato Summit this morning sealed a wider agreement to hand control of Afghanistan over to its own security forces by the middle of next year.
New French President Francois Hollande's insisted on fulfilling a campaign pledge to withdraw French troops by the end of this year - two years ahead of Nato's timetable.
"Our nations and the world have a vital interest in the success of this mission," US President Barack Obama told a summit session, Reuters reported.
"I am confident ... that we can advance that goal today and responsibly bring this war to an end."
The summit's final communique labelled the plan an "irreversible" transition to full security responsibility for Afghan troops and said Nato's mission in 2014 would shift to a training and advisory role.
"This will not be a combat mission," it said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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