The head of international forces in Afghanistan wants New Zealand troops to stay longer and Prime Minister John Key says he will consider the possibility.
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, told New Zealand journalists in Kabul that progress in areas such as Bamiyan, where New Zealand has 140 personnel, was critical to securing peace.
The Government wants to phase out NZ’s presence in Afghanistan. The rotation for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan is set to end in September and the 70 Special Air Service soldiers in Kabul are due to leave in March. …
“In places like Bamiyan, the work we’re doing, they don’t get the headlines because we don’t have as many suicide bombs going off or violence in the area, but that’s really where we are building the foundation of Afghanistan.
“Now we will eventually make progress like that everywhere in the country but it will take longer in areas where it is violent now.”
Mr Key said the PRT commitment was likely to roll over for another year and then start reducing with more civilians coming in.
“Over time the composition is going to change away from the military capability to a civilian capability and that’s the plan. That will be starting in 2011. And that’s part of the handing back of control, if you like, to the people of Afghanistan, so there will be a military capability, it might be around 50 people.”
Mr Key said the SAS’s commitment would be looked at. “The SAS preference would be to have a smaller contingent to stay for a bit longer.”
He said the SAS had recently had a big success uncovering a “tremendous” cache of weapons in Kabul including missiles and hand grenades.
However, he would not commit himself to allowing them to remain.
It’s a tough call to make. Any extensions increases the odds that NZ soldiers will be killed in the line of duty. However this is not a risk unique to Afghanistan – four NZ soldiers have died serving in East Timor.