Those old enough to remember the Vietnam War could be excused an eerie sense of deja vu when they hear the latest reports coming out of Afghanistan.

Just as the Americans made reassuring noises that the South Vietnamese military forces could stand on their own feet after the United States withdrew its huge military apparatus, similar statements have kept passing the lips of foreign commanders in Kabul that the military of the official Afghan Government led by President Hamid Karzai will be able to deal with the Taleban.

The American-backed Saigon-based regime subsequently crumbled to the invading North Vietnamese. The noises coming out of Kabul do not sound terribly confident that a repeat is not on the cards in Afghanistan. No wonder. Twice in a matter of weeks, New Zealand's SAS troops have had to come to the rescue of the Afghan units they are "mentoring", to save the local troops and the Karzai Government from major embarrassment.

Any latent pride felt by New Zealanders in the SAS's role in dealing with the earlier incident at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel would have evaporated in the face of the firefight at the British Council headquarters last Friday.


If they had not done so already, New Zealanders will have been asking themselves one question: is it worth it?

That will certainly be the question that Labour will be posing after Corporal Doug Grant's funeral this week. Decorum has so far obliged Phil Goff to confine his remarks to paying his respects to Corporal Grant and his grieving family.

Back in February - when the Government extended the SAS's deployment for a further 12 months - the Labour leader declared it was time to withdraw the troops rather than have them remaining and propping up the "corrupt" Karzai regime.

The public would seem to agree. Some 63 per cent of those questioned in last month's Herald-DigiPoll survey said the SAS should be withdrawn from Afghanistan as scheduled next March. Only 23 per cent wanted the deployment extended beyond that.

The question is how strongly those views are held. Probably not very strongly. Many people will have seen the deployment as one of the prices a small country pays to have a good relationship with the United States.

With the deaths of Corporal Grant and Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell last year, the deployment would seem to be at increasing cost as the Taleban become more assertive.

The outcome seems inevitable. The Americans do not wish to concede their 11-year war in Afghanistan has been a failure.The Taleban can afford to play the long game, however.

New Zealand's deployment is unlikely to become a major election issue - not least because Labour will not want to be accused of exploiting the soldiers' deaths for political purposes.


However, Corporal Grant's death seems to have reinforced the Prime Minister's view that the SAS - whatever it might think - should come home next March.

John Key did not rule out a future redeployment. But that might have been merely a gesture to soften the decision to leave next March.

Unlike the United States, New Zealand has an exit strategy to get out of Afghanistan. And no political party here is going to quibble about using it.