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Afghan pull-out comes as attacks increase

Monday 3 Sep 2012 5:17 p.m.

By Tova O'Brien

New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan will return home by the end of April next year – a year-and-a-half earlier than first planned.

The withdrawal date has been confirmed by Prime Minister John Key and comes as NATO forces in Afghanistan suspend training of some Afghan police recruits after a spike in insider killings.

Since New Zealand joined America's war in Afghanistan, 10 of our soldiers have died – five in the last month alone.

Now we're pulling out – gone by end of April next year. The Prime Minister insists the early withdrawal has nothing to do with the deaths.

“ISAF's [International Security Assistance Force] view has been it's not sensible for everyone to try and go through the keyhole in one day in 2014,” says Mr Key. "Let's have a staged approach. New Zealand's is in arguably one of the safest and most likely places where transition will be successful."

But New Zealand had originally pledged to stay until September 2014.

“The latest announcement came just after the fatalities of our soldiers,” says Labour Party leader David Shearer, "so quite clearly it had an impact on how long the Government wanted to stay in Afghanistan."

The enemy in Afghanistan is getting harder to spot.

Forty-five NATO soldiers have been killed during insider attacks this year, compared to 35 last year. Last month was the worst since the war began, with 15 killings – three of the victims Australian.

“People may well join and be loyal at the time, then change their mind later on, particularly as they know the Americans are pulling out in two-and-a-quarter years’ time,” says foreign affairs correspondent Keith Suter. “They might as well start to change sides now.”

Two US soldiers were killed last month when an Afghan police recruit was handed his gun for the first time and instead of saluting the officers, he opened fire. NATO forces have stopped training around 1000 Afghan police until thorough background checks are completed.

New Zealand hasn't lost any troops during these so-called insider attacks, but the Prime Minister says you can never rule out the risk.

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