New Zealand’s troops in Afghanistan will not be withdrawn by April this year, Prime Minister John Key has announced.
Instead, 27 members of the Defence Force will form a “legacy contingent” and stay on for another year to “improve the security and prosperity of Afghanistan”.
The troops will move from their current Bamiyan base to another one in Kabul before a full exit planned for April next year.
“We’ve had up to 180 people there and I guess we are on our way now to 27,” says Mr Key.
“It is a changeable place and we’ll always review these things but the intention at the moment is that this is a one-year commitment.”
The roles of the New Zealanders include:
- Eight personnel deployed to the UK-led Afghan National Army Officer Training Academy in Kabul from later this year.
- 12 personnel to the ISAF Special Operations Forces headquarters employed mainly in intelligence and planning roles
- Three personnel with the ISAF headquarters in Kabul
- Three support personnel as part of the New Zealand 'National Support Element'
- One officer with the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan
Cabinet agreed to the changes at their meeting this morning.
Despite keeping troops in Afghanistan past April this year, Mr Key remains adamant that the Government is sticking to its official withdraw date.
“We are withdrawing then. This is just a legacy contingent for a period of time to back up a decade of work.”
Mr Key hasn’t ruled out keeping New Zealand troops there past the April 2014 date.
“At the end of that year, the Government will look at what other countries are doing and how we feel about matters and then reassess that.
“It’s important we don’t walk away from Afghanistan and leave it isolated. We want to see the job done and for Afghanistan to get back on its feet and be self-governing,” he says.
Last September, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman brought forward plans to withdraw New Zealand soldiers by April 2013 instead of September 2014.
Dr Coleman said the reason for doing so was because of the airport’s runway being resealed, meaning the Air Force’s Hercules planes couldn’t land there after April.