Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Promise of ongoing help to comrades of the fallen

Minister of Defence makes a secret visit to Afghanistan with NZ's military chief

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says some comrades of the New Zealand troops killed in Afghanistan will need ongoing support when they get back home to prevent mental health issues into the future.

"I don't think you can pretend that once these guys get home, suddenly you can close the door on that chapter," he told the Herald last night from Dubai.

"I think people will need ongoing support to make sure you are not at risk of long-term mental health effects from this," said the minister, who is also a qualified doctor.

Dr Coleman has just completed a secret visit to Bamiyan with the chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, following the deaths of five troops in August.

In the past 10 years in Afghanistan, the New Zealand Defence Force has lost 10 soldiers.

Dr Coleman and General Jones added plaques to the cairn at Camp Kiwi in a brief commemorative ceremony when they first arrived on the latest visit.

The visit also coincided with the crossover between the departing Crib 20 and the arrival of the final rotation of Crib 21 before New Zealand departs for good by the end of April.

Dr Coleman said Crib 21 was thrilled to be going home after six months.

Asked about morale, he said the reality was that different individuals would react very differently to what had happened.

"And some I think will be quite affected by this experience for a long time to come and others who you think might be more affected may not be so affected."

Dr Coleman would not comment on whether he had met up with the four SAS troops who have returned to Afghanistan to gain intelligence on the insurgents in the northeast of the province responsible for the latest five deaths.

Nor would he say whether patrolling had resumed in the northeast, but he did not visit the area on the trip.

He spent much of his time looking at the development projects New Zealand is funding in Bamiyan, including agriculture projects using what are known as "McCully tractors".

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has spearheaded a drive to get greater mechanisation into agriculture, including the provision of 60 tractors.

Local small-time farmers had been formed into co-operatives and paid a subscription for the use of tractors, for access to seed technology and access to animal vaccines. The result was bigger crops and healthier animals.

"The locals are raving about it," Dr Coleman said. "It has made it incredibly more productive."

He also visited a New Zealand solar power energy project under construction that is expected to supply 35 per cent of the town. He said it would be run by a private local company and the provincial government.

The NZ Defence Force was building a dormitory for 100 young men at the Bamiyan teachers' college opening in about a month.

"It feels like a place which is really going ahead," Dr Coleman said.

But there was no doubt that the security situation in the northeast still concerned people.

- NZ Herald

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