Key says Afghan troops to have new role

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand troops who remain in Afghanistan after the proposed withdrawal in April will have a very different role to front-line personnel.

Mr Key rejected criticism that the decision to leave some personnel in Afghanistan amounted to a broken promise, saying the Government made it clear last year that the withdrawal of the troops would not mean the end of New Zealand's commitment there.

He told Radio New Zealand this morning that the troops who remained after April would have a different role to those there previously.

"It is quite a different sort of commitment we've got for the next 12 months as opposed to having the Defence Force on the frontline as they have been in Bamiyan, where they've been patrolling the quite dangerous terrain.

"All we're doing is providing a bit of logistics and training support, all of which will be behind the wire."

New Zealand's 196 personnel in Bamiyan would leave as planned in April.

Mr Key said yesterday he was confident that the civilians working in the Bamiyan region would be safe, despite five New Zealand casualties in the area late last year.

Eight of the new deployment would train locals for enrolment in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The Prime Minister acknowledged that this group was not completely out of the line of fire given the history of "blue-on-green" attacks in Afghanistan, in which Afghan forces had turned on their own colleagues or international troops.

The team of 27 was expected to be deployed until April 2014, though this would be reviewed later in the year.

Mr Key said Afghanistan was a "changeable and unpredictable environment" and their mission could be extended if required.

Three SAS soldiers would remain in the country in an intelligence and logistics role.

"It's been fair to say they've been very effective," Mr Key said.

"They are an enabler without being the actual people who are knocking on doors or carrying weapons."

Labour Party defence spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said the deployment signalled a new mission with a new mandate, and it was time for New Zealand's troops to come home.

But Mr Key stressed that it was in New Zealand's interest to make an ongoing contribution to the country in order to preserve a decade's worth of gains in security and human rights.

- Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald and APNZ

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