Afghanistan pull out date confirmed
New Zealand's military will be out of Afghanistan by the end of April next year, the Government has confirmed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman this afternoon said the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) would be withdrawn from Bamiyan province by the end of April 2013.
The April date had been hinted at by Prime Minister John Key following the deaths last month of five Kiwi soldiers in the north-eastern province of the war-torn country.
But it was only confirmed by Cabinet today.
"Over its 10-year deployment, the New Zealand PRT has contributed to international counter-terrorism efforts, improved security, and the development and governance of Bamiyan province. Our success is reflected in Bamiyan's position as a leader in the transition process," Coleman said.
"The timetable announced today reflects weeks of careful logistical planning, especially since news that the Bamiyan airport will not be available to Hercules flights after April 2013, due to a major upgrade of the runway."
The departure had been planned in co-ordination with the overall transition plan of the coalition's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), he said.
"We should not underestimate the challenges Afghanistan will continue to face. We should also acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who have lost their lives while on active service in the province,'' Coleman said.
New Zealand's contribution in Afghanistan included four deployments of SAS soldiers and the PRT has been in Bamiyan for 10 years.
The 35-strong SAS unit pulled out of Kabul in March, leaving the PRT in Bamiyan as the last of the Kiwi military contingent in the country.
New Zealand's death toll in Afghanistan doubled last month to 10 after two separate incidents in which two and then three Kiwis were killed.
It's understood one or two SAS may have been considered for re-deployment to Afghanistan after the deaths.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the withdrawal of the PRT did not mean the end of New Zealand's commitment to Afghanistan.
"We will continue to support Afghanistan to ensure the progress made by the international community is sustained. New Zealand's legacy in Afghanistan depends on this,'' McCully said.
Ongoing support was likely to include the contribution of a small number of NZDF trainers to the Afghanistan National Army Officer Training Academy later next year, as well as an on-going presence in ISAF headquarters and financial and development contributions.