Troops to resume Afghanistan role

By Patrick Gower

New Zealand will keep troops in Afghanistan for another year, but there will be no increase in numbers to help the intensifying efforts of the United States to counter an increasingly fierce Taleban insurgency.

The Government has committed to 150 troops at a cost of $41.5 million, which will see the provincial reconstruction team continue its patrols and other work in the Bamiyan province through to September 2010.

In his first major military decision, US President Barack Obama last week ordered an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Robert Gates, the US Secretary of Defence, made unsuccessful attempts last week for allies to provide more troops at a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers in Krakow, Poland.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp attended the Krakow meeting because New Zealand is part of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Dr Mapp said that while the United States has previously made "suggestions" about New Zealand boosting its commitment, there was no "specific request".

Dr Mapp said he met briefly with Mr Gates, and had further discussions with his officials.

"I stressed to them that we have substantial commitments already in our region and our region takes priority. The New Zealand Defence has got a lot on its plate already."

Asked if he expected a request from the US in the future, Dr Mapp said he believed its focus was on other countries.

He said New Zealand's commitment in Afghanistan was more substantial than that of Greece or Portugal.

"A number of nations made that observation to us - that there's other nations who frankly could do more."

Dr Mapp said New Zealand understood there was still problems in Afghanistan, and "this is not the time to be drawing down".

He said Mr Gates' officials noted "the value and expertise of our provincial reconstruction team - and in particular the way we interact with the villagers and spend time with them rather than go out for the day and come home for the evening."


NZ's renewed commitment to Afghanistan includes:
* Deployment of PRT consisting of up to 140 Defence Force personnel in Bamiyan Province
* Deployment of up to five NZDF personnel to various operational headquarters in Afghanistan
* One military officer with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
* Up to two medical specialists serving in the south of Afghanistan
* Up to two NZDF officers working with the UK to provide training for the Afghan Army

- NZ Herald

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