Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Hungarians condemn Key's jibe about troops in Afghanistan

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Hungary's Defence Ministry has rejected Prime Minister John Key's comments about its troops in Afghanistan, calling them "inappropriate" and wrong.

Mr Key's comments, made after insurgents killed two New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) soldiers, have also sparked a storm of comment on Hungarian news sites.

Mr Key said the Defence Force planned to extend its patrols beyond the borders of Bamiyan province partly to fill a gap left by Hungarian troops in neighbouring Baghlan province.

A Hungarian PRT team based in Baghlan has been previously criticised for being ineffective and Mr Key spoke of "a gap in the security arrangement there".

"As far as I'm aware, the Hungarians don't go out at night. Not in Afghanistan anyway - they might in Budapest," he said.

On Tuesday, the Hungarian Defence Ministry first expressed its condolences for the loss of Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone.

But in a strongly worded statement, it said accusations Mr Key had made about Hungary's PRT were not "appropriate". His comments "lack the spirit of comradeship and union that we would like to preserve", the ministry said in a translation supplied to the Herald by Hungarian news media.

Contrary to what Mr Key said, "it is not the Hungarian PRT's duty to uproot the Taleban nests in the region". That was a role for dedicated United States, German and Afghan forces, the ministry said.

A Hungarian news media source said Mr Key's comments and the ministry's reaction had been widely reported there. The source said a significant proportion of commentators "are not too fond of John Key".

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, Phil Goff, said Mr Key's comments were "a dumb thing to say".

"If John Key or the Government has a problem with what the Hungarians are doing with their PRT, you take it up directly with them and you have that discussion in confidence.

"You don't make gratuitous insults from a distance. Hasn't he learned anything from Gerry Brownlee's comments about Finland?"

Meanwhile, Colonel Romulus Ruszin, who commanded Hungary's PRT between August 2011 and March 2012, said claims Hungarian troops in Afghanistan did not go out at night were not correct.

"We conducted patrols day and night and not just alone but together with Afghan, US, and German alliance forces."

- NZ Herald

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