Opinion by Political Editor Duncan Garner
John Key is right not to cut and run from Afghanistan. It would look wimpy and reactive.
Why now? Why not last week? Why not the week before?
We are part of an international collective operating over there whether we like it or not.
Labour sent us there, National is bringing us home. But exits take time.
Shutting down the bases is a big job. It can't happen overnight. It can't happen within weeks. It must happen within an agreed timeframe. Shutting up shop is a big and dangerous job. Logistically alone - there is so much gear and hardware to transport home or dispose of to locals.
But this latest attack has focussed the country's mind and the language of the Prime Minister. It's clear the Prime Minister is on edge and wants our boys and girls home. My sources tell me meetings are going on behind the scenes with ISAF bosses to secure the date. April next year is now looking like the date for a return.
It doesn't mean we won't keep a small number of troops up there in Bamyan. We probably still will.
But my sources tell me we are close to setting that date. It's much sooner than had previously been agreed to.
Labour's position has been all over the show. David Shearer appears to be saying John Key is doing the right thing. Phil Goff says bring them home as soon as possible. Labour needs to get its house in order. Why does Shearer allow Goff to speak on these matters? Who is leading this party?
The Greens say get them home as soon as we can.
On all these fronts I think John Key is actually trying his best. But he can't just pull them out. Not credibly.
We have international agreements and gentlemen's agreements that we have signed up to and shaken on. The next group of troops that goes up there in October will be the last rotation. It will be made up of blokes largely sent up there to pack up the base. That is what's called an orderly withdrawal.
Remember these troops weren't meant to be back until September 2014. But that's all changed.
April 2013 is now the date with the ring around it.
Sure, we won't achieve much more up there. And many question just how much we've achieved anyway. With north-east Bayman province now so insecure and unsafe, the Kiwi troops appear to have a futile mission for the next few months.
Jon Stephenson, a kiwi journalist over there, reliably informs me the reconstruction work has stopped, the locals are not overly happy about that, and our troops are not making the progress the Army PR-machine would have us believe.
So we're transitioning.
We are on the way out.
But running for the exit door won't make anyone safer. It actually puts people in harm's way. There is only one way to exit. That's in a professional manner. We must finish our work. It's scary to think of Afghanistan without the security and presence of the international force - but this is their country.
It is time to hand it back. New Zealand has spent 9 years training the local police force. If they're not ready now, they never will be. Overall, trillions has been spent, thousands of lives lost.
So we must honour our men and women by seeing the job through.
But we must exit soon. The talks are progressing, the date is being set. Key wants us out.
But politicking over it is fruitless and cheap. Our soldiers have done a sterling job - but we have now paid a heavy price. Our troops are coming home soon.
For all Key's talk about not cutting and running - he must drive a hard bargain behind closed doors and get a date as early as possible that our international partners can live with.
Key has this one right - but he must negotiate hard for a hasty exit.
He should be telling ISAF we want out ASAP. We have paid our price, we have nothing more to give or add. Our soldiers must come home - but they must come out properly.
Those who argue they should be withdrawn tomorrow and put on a plane out of there know nothing about war. But still, the Prime Minister owes it to the wider army family to get them home as soon as possible. We must not cut and run - but we must organise a hasty and professional exit - sooner rather than later.