Key defends aid work in Afghanistan

By Derek Cheng

Author Nicky Hager during a press conference in Wellington after the release of his book 'Other People's Wars.'   Photo / Mark Mitchell
Author Nicky Hager during a press conference in Wellington after the release of his book 'Other People's Wars.' Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister John Key is defending the New Zealand's aid work in Afghanistan, despite a highly critical Defence Force report that described the work as ineffective and not "sustainable in any way".

Mr Key was responding to claims in Nicky Hager's book, Other People's War, which details the New Zealand military's involvement in the "war on terror" in the past 10 years.

Hager quoted a 2010 Defence Force report into the work of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan that cited a lack of a "clear and agreed upon strategy".

"The projects overseen by the [NZDF] through the PRT do no appear to be sustainable in any way and anecdotal evidence is that some have already failed," the report said.

Among the failures were a road through a marketplace that had to be fixed within six months, and a school that was "built in the middle of a dry river bed".

It concluded that the Defence Force was "not an effective aid provider".

"Contractors are not well supervised, projects are not monitored (and often not visited) and security issues outweigh development ... [There are] no mechanisms in place to monitor the impact, effectiveness or sustainability of projeccts."

The review also questioned the PRT's ability to provide anything beyond "minimal" security outside of the PRT compound.

Mr Key did not deny the report existed.

"I have no recollection of reading it," he said.

But he strongly disagreed and described the aid work as "very effective".

"Our people have been actively been engaged in that reconstruction work - schools, hospitals and the like - provided support for the police force, [and] they've also proided some military capabilities to allow others - particularly NGOs - to get on and carry out their work.

"The feedback I had when I was in Bamiyan was that they were much loved for what they were doing and highly respected."

Mr Key said if the aid effort had been so woeful, Bamiyan would not have been "top of the priority list" for transition back to Afghan control.

He also took issue with the main claim in the book - that senior Defence Force and Minsitry of Foreign Affairs officials were cosying up to the Americans against Government instructions, and keeping ministers in the dark.

"In terms of whether Defence or Mfat follow their mandate, as best as I can possibly judge that - of course you rely on the very people you're talking about - I accept that they have followed their mandate," Mr Key said.

He was totally confident the departments were following Government policy.

"I have no reason to believe otherwise."

He said his officials had read the book and advised him, but he said he had not been advised on whether New Zealand intelligence agents had helped the US military target terror suspects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"In due course we'll have a look at it, but it's not a high priority."

- NZ Herald

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