The deployment of eight light armoured vehicles and other new weapons systems to New Zealand troops in Afghanistan will help them deal with an anticipated upsurge in insurgent activity, says Joint Forces Commander Air Vice Marshal Peter Stockwell.
It was revealed on Friday that five light armoured vehicles (LAV) were recently airfreighted to New Zealand's provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan Province and three other vehicles had been redeployed from New Zealand's SAS contingent in the country to the PRT at the same time.
The new vehicles and associated personnel are in addition to the extra infantry sent to Bamiyan after Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell of Feilding was killed in an ambush there last August.
Air Vice Marshal Stockwell said the deployment of the LAVs was part of the defence force's response to "the level of commitment, organisation and planning by the insurgents" in the attack that killed Lieutenant O'Donnell which had not previously been encountered by the PRT.
"We need to be making sure we have the right sort of equipment there."
The need for better equipment coincided with upgrades to the LAVs such as extra armour and roof-hung seats to protect against roadside bombs and mines, which made the vehicles more suitable for the conditions.
Air Vice Marshal Stockwell said an increase in insurgent activity was also expected in coming weeks.
"Typically what happens during their winter season, and because of the high terrain where many of the mountain passes are impassable because of snow, there is a drop off in insurgent activity.
"In fact many of them head back to Pakistan and elsewhere so we don't often have a lot of insurgent activity during that winter period.
"We're expecting that as the summer season begins we will see the insurgency rise up again and that's why we want to [be] better prepared to deal with that."
The Army had also deployed a number of other weapons systems "about which I'm not prepared to go into detail".
"We're making sure we're giving our troops what we believe to be the best kit we can give them to do the job they've go to do."
The Government has set a cap of 140 on provincial reconstruction team numbers and up until the death of Lieutenant O'Donnell the actual number had fallen to about 118 including 10 people based at Bagram airforce base further south. However, following the attack extra infantry were sent to Bamiyan taking the number to about 133 and with the deployment of the LAVs the number was "right up close" to the 140 cap, Air Vice Marshal Stockwell told the Herald.
There was no indication that more than 140 personnel would be required in Bamiyan but Air Vice Marshal Stockwell said that would have been a topic of discussion for Foreign Minister Murray McCully in this week's Berlin talks with his counterparts from other ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) countries.By Adam Bennett Email Adam