Clark: Security in Afghanistan a concern

The Government decided to send more troops to Afghanistan because of the deteriorating security situation there, Prime Minister Helen Clark said today.

Miss Clark and Defence Minister Phil Goff announced last night that an extra 18 personnel were being sent to Afghanistan to join New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction team, (PRT) in Bamyan Province.

The extra troops will be sent later this month and will lift the total strength of the PRT to a maximum of 140 personnel.

"We've been reviewing security there in recent months following a deterioration in the situation, like a rocket attack on a nearby town, increased criminal and drug trafficking elements, and last weekend an improvised explosive device targeted one of our patrols," Miss Clark said.

"We made the decision to increase our numbers prior to that because of our general concern about the spillover effect of instability in other provinces into the Bamyan area."

The PRT is helping local people by setting up schools, hospitals and other essential services.

Miss Clark said the PRT had been fortunate because Bamyan had been one of the most stable areas of Afghanistan.

"Nonetheless, we see the potential for that to deteriorate a little and we thought the best thing we could do was increase our ability to look after the security of our own deployment there," she said on Radio New Zealand.

Miss Clark announced the new deployment at a Nato meeting she is attending in Bucharest, where Afghanistan is being discussed.

"It's a very mixed picture," she said.

"More children are in schools, more roads are being put in, all those are positives but we've also seen a big growth in the opposition to the Afghan government and international forces over the last couple of years.

"The jury is out on whether things will get better or worse."

- NZPA

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