New Zealand's defence ties with the United States are set to reach a new milestone with the arrival of 76 US military personnel for the first combat-focused joint exercise on New Zealand soil in more than 27 years.

And New Zealand's defence ties with Nato are also high on the Government's agenda with talks scheduled at the Beehive today with Nato's top military man, US Admiral Jim Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

The Defence Minister, Jonathan Coleman, last night announced the joint military exercise involving 35 US Marines and 41 US Army personnel to take part in an exercise dubbed Alam Halfa, after a World War II battle in Egypt in 1942.

Since the accelerated friendship between New Zealand and the US was announced in the Wellington Declaration 16 months ago, joint exercises have stepped up. But until now they have had a humanitarian or non-combat focus.


Exercise Alam Halfa marks the first traditional military exercise since the reprisals against New Zealand for its anti-nuclear legislation included a ban on joint exercises, without a special waiver.

The exercise will involve about 1500 Defence Force personnel and begin in Linton the day after Anzac Day, ending in Waiouru 10 days later. The Canterbury will also be involved at Napier.

US Ambassador David Huebner said the "centrepiece" of the year would be in June when US Marines, including a Marine band, would visit New Zealand to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of American forces to help to defend the South Pacific in World War II.

"How Kiwis and Americans worked together during the dark days of 1942 is a particularly powerful part of our shared history."

Admiral Stavridis is expected to have talks today with Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Dr Coleman. Afghanistan is likely to be the main subject. He will not be meeting Prime Minister John Key, who is on a family holiday in Europe.