Risks to troops in Bamiyan growing

HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2012

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Bamiyan is one of the quieter provinces in Afghanistan, and the latest incident is the deadliest of New Zealand's nine-year deployment there.

Typically, the greatest challenges faced by the troops of New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team are the climate and appalling roads. But there have been signs of a growing military threat, particularly in the northeast, where the latest battle took place.

The 140-strong PRT is on its 20th rotation in Bamiyan, patrolling the rugged central highlands, maintaining contact with locals and watching for insurgent activity.

When the force was first sent to the impoverished province in 2003, troops patrolled in Toyota utes, but the growing risk has prompted the Defence Force to provide them with armoured Humvees and light armoured vehicles.

Most of the present contingent are drawn from the Christchurch-based 2nd First Battalion and led by Lieutenant Colonel Pete Hall. They began their rotation in April and are expected to return home in October.

The PRT was to have stayed in Afghanistan until September 2014 but Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in May that the team would leave the area late next year. This is in line with United States and Nato plans to run down their commitments and hand over security to Afghan forces.

The first reconstruction team was sent to Afghanistan, along with the SAS, as a gesture of support to the United States and Nato after the New Zealand Government refused to support the invasion of Iraq.

New Zealand's role in Afghanistan has played a crucial part in helping to restore military and political links with the US after the Anzus Treaty split of 1985.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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