An all-female team of soldiers is being recruited to work alongside the elite NZSAS.

The internal recruiting drive aims to build a team of six women who would be sent with the NZSAS on operations where it is "culturally unacceptable" for men to talk to women.

Those chosen for the unit would be expected to have the brawn, brains and tenacity to keep up with the elite soldiers but wouldn't be "badged" members of the NZSAS with the sand-coloured berets and winged dagger.

And while expected to fight - if it comes down to it - their primary role would be speaking with women and young people in the areas the NZSAS would be operating.


The move by the NZ Defence Force follows examples set by partner militaries which began developing "female engagement teams" after being drawn into Afghanistan.

The United States Marine Corp set up its first "fet" team shortly after the War on Terror began and by 2012 had teams operating across Afghanistan and Iraq.

Without the teams, half the population of Afghanistan was effectively locked away from soldiers, as women are banned from interacting with men.

The internal NZDF recruitment advertisement doesn't single out Afghanistan - the war-torn country is mentioned alongside Bougainville and Timor as places that have "demonstrated the power of employing females to engage with all aspects of societies, especially women and children".

A spokesman for NZDF said it sometimes operated in countries which had fundamentally different cultures.

"It is about us being respectful of the culture we may be working within in order to be effective."

He said there had been occasions in which "gender-specific roles" were required for special forces operations and they had been filled by NZDF personnel when needed.

"Experience has shown us that not all people are suited to these types of roles."

The spokesman said the decision had been made to build a sustainable, permanent team which would work with other parts of NZDF as needed but have a home with the special operation forces.

The NZSAS has previously had women in uniform operating in a support capacity in Afghanistan but they have not had front-line duties.

And neither has a serving women passed the NZSAS selection process which has those wanting to join the unit put through a grueling series of physical and mental tests.

Those seeking a place with the "fet" would go through a specialised selection process for those serving alongside or supporting the NZSAS.

The spokesman said successful candidates would have the ability to engage with female and adolescent populations.

But he said they also needed to be able to take on the training needed to support the NZSAS.

Illustration / Guy Body
Illustration / Guy Body

"To do so, they will be required to demonstrate that they have the temperament, physical ability and cognitive capacity necessary for operating within a special operations environment."

While the spokesman said the "fet" team would give commanders on the ground advice on culture and language, US military studies have also found interaction with women in Afghanistan created a valuable intelligence resource.

The move by NZDF to establish a permanent "fet" team comes at a time when US President Donald Trump is promising the use of greater military force in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Bill English said yesterday three more uniformed personnel would be sent to Afghanistan - bringing the NZDF total contribution to 10 people - his office refused to say whether fresh NZSAS deployments were planned.

Green Party leader James Shaw said there should be no more New Zealand troops sent to Afghanistan.

"Pursuing peace by military means has not fundamentally changed the situation in Afghanistan for 16 years - it's not clear how sending more troops now will make a difference."

He said the Green Party would seek the return of any troops should it become part of the next government.

"There are more effective ways of supporting the people of Afghanistan to achieve peace and stability."

The "fet" team sees the development of another specialist team inside New Zealand Special Operations Forces.

Over the last few decades, it has added a specialist bomb disposal unit and beefed up its intelligence gathering capabilities, among other specialised units supporting the NZSAS.

The book Hit & Run by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson described the NZSAS as developing its own stronghold inside NZDF with unit leaders going on to populate higher command.