Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ journalist based in Auckland.

SAS returning home from Afghanistan

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand special air service troops are returning home from Afghanistan at the end of their two-and-half year deployment.

The fourth deployment of SAS troops to Afghanistan was posted in 2009, with their official mission coming to an end yesterday.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman today formally acknowledged their contribution, saying they had helped ensure Al Qaeda could not maintain safe-havens in Afghanistan from which to plan further attacks.

"In this sense, the NZSAS deployments have directly helped protect New Zealanders from the risk of international terrorism,'' he said.

"The SAS have served New Zealand with distinction over the course of their deployments in Afghanistan. It's been a job well done.''

During their deployment, SAS troops have conducted operations against insurgent networks, predominantly improvised explosive device and suicide bomber networks.

They have also provided counter-terrorism help to the Afghan police's crisis response unit.

Dr Coleman said this was a direct response to the international community's goal of increasing the capacity and capability of the Afghan security forces.

He acknowledged the loss of Corporal Douglas Grant and Lance Corporal Leon Smith, who were killed last year in separate operations.

"They were brave men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of New Zealand. Our thoughts continue to be with their families and colleagues.''

The families of the two men have been been presented with the New Zealand Memorial Cross, while Lance Corporal Smith was also posthumously awarded the Charles Upham Award for Bravery.

The Labour Party has been critical of the decision to redeploy SAS troops in 2009, saying it would be wrong to support a government that did not have the trust of its people.

- APNZ

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