New Zealand PM announces early Afghan exit

Statement on troop pullout in April 2013 follows deaths of three soldiers on Sunday, taking August's death toll to five.

    Key said New Zealand will not 'cut and run' as he announced plans for earlier troop withdrawal [AP]
    Key said New Zealand will not 'cut and run' as he announced plans for earlier troop withdrawal [AP]

    John Key, New Zealand prime minister, has announced that his country will withdraw its troops earlier from Afghanistan in 2013 than planned, but insists it will not "cut and run" from the conflict.

    Key said on Monday in Wellington that it was "highly likely" the remaining soldiers from the contingent of 145 would be withdrawn in April 2013.

    He said discussions for the earlier withdrawal began before the five deaths this month.

    Murray McCully, New Zealand's foreign affairs minister, had announced in May the troops would be withdrawn "in the latter part of 2013".

    Key also said the move was not prompted by the deaths this month of five New Zealand soldiers, including three who were killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb.

    According to defence force officials, the two men and one woman died instantly when an "enormous" blast destroyed their Humvee as the New Zealand convoy was escorting a soldier suffering a medical condition back from a visit to the doctors.

    The incident on Sunday also marked the first time a New Zealand woman has died in the conflict.

    Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, a 26-year-old medic, was killed in the explosion, as were Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, and Private Richard Harris, 21.

    August's deaths account for half of all fatalities suffered by the small contingent of New Zealanders in the nine years they have been stationed in Bamiyan, which was comparatively stable until a recent upswing in violence.

    Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones, chief of the defence force, said the Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack.

    Earlier this month, two New Zealand soldiers were killed and another six injured during a gun battle with fighters in the same region.

    'As fast as practicable'

    The New Zealand prime minister said he wants to bring home the troops as fast as practicable within a timetable that fits in with the coalition partners, but rejected calls to end the operation immediately.

    "We'll do it as fast as we can, and we'll do it in the way that protects our people as best we can," Key said.

    "Yes we need to make it the shortest timeframe we can now logistically, but we have to do it with our partners. If we don't, then the message we send to the rest of all of Afghanistan is that it's time to run for the exits.

    "And if we do that, then the thousands of people who have lost their lives have been in vain. And I just don't think that reflects the values and principles that underpin New Zealand."

    The move is likely to be popular among many New Zealanders, who have increasingly questioned the country's role in the conflict.

    The New Zealand troops were sent ostensibly as a reconstruction team, with the mission of helping to rebuild and protect Bamiyan province's infrastructure and social systems.

    In recent months, however, that role has increasingly given way to combat operations, as violence in the region has increased.

    US troops

    The New Zealand troop withdrawal announcement came just hours before the US military's top general held talks with senior officials in Afghanistan in an attempt to stop the wave of attacks by Afghan soldiers and police against international forces in the country.

    General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, landed at Bagram Air Field outside Kabul on Monday and was scheduled to meet General John Allen, the commander of NATO and US forces in the country, and senior Afghan officials, Jamie Graybeal, spokesman, said.

    In the latest such attack, two Afghan policemen turned their weapons on US troops on Sunday in Kandahar province, killing an American soldier, officials said.

    That raised the death toll to 10 US troops killed in such attacks in the space of just two weeks.

    Sunday's attack happened in Kandahar's Spin Boldak district near the border with Pakistan. One of the attackers was killed when the troops returned fire and the other escaped, Graybeal said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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