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New Zealand troops to leave Afghanistan early

Wellington, Tue, 22 May 2012 ANI

Wellington, May 22 (Xinhua-ANI): New Zealand troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan next year-a year earlier than previous scheduled, the New Zealand government announced Tuesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully announced the government expected the transition to Afghan forces in Bamyan province to be formally concluded later this year and the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan would be withdrawn later in 2013.

McCully said in a statement from his office that the earlier conclusion of transition and withdrawal "reflects the outstanding work that New Zealand PRT personnel have done to prepare the province for transition to local control."

McCully said he had discussed the new timetable with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) leadership, senior Afghan ministers and other partners and they had all have agreed to the PRT winding up its role in late 2013.

"The New Zealand-led PRT has done an excellent job in Bamyan, reflected in the province being selected amongst the first tranche for transition. It is now likely that the Afghan government and ISAF will formally declare that transition to be completed later in 2012," he said.

"Over the coming weeks, a specialist team will visit Bamyan to draw up a detailed plan for the wind down in the province. We are intent on ensuring that the province is well prepared for the next steps and that major development projects are completed," said McCully.

"New Zealand-funded agricultural projects and the new solar energy plant will be substantively completed, as will the Japanese- funded sealing of the airport runway. Training of the new Provincial Quick Reaction Force will also have concluded."

The New Zealand government would continue contributing to the international effort in Afghanistan, offering "a small number" of training officers to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy from 2013 and a three-year commitment of 2 million U.S. dollars a year to Afghan National Security Force rule of law projects in Bamyan.

McCully made the announcement in Chicago where he is attending a NATO summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The meeting, also attended by New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman, involved heads of government, and foreign and defense ministers from the 50 ISAF countries.

New Zealand forces had "a big advantage" in working with a provincial administration that was largely honest and competent, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Labor Party, Phil Goff, said in a statement.

"That is in huge contrast to the national administration which has been corrupt, implicated in drug trafficking and unable to win the confidence of the wider Afghan population," said Goff.

"Fundamental change within the current administration and dialogue with its opponents offers the best chance of securing longer term peace."

New Zealand has 140 troops currently serving in the Bamyan PRT, focusing on security and training of the Afghan National Police.

The PRT was deployed to Bamyan province in 2003 and the government had previously said it was committed to maintaining the force until 2014.

The province was the first to return to the control of Afghan forces last year.

New Zealand's special forces unit, the Special Air Service Group, ended their deployment in Afghanistan in March.

Two New Zealand special forces soldiers were killed in attacks in Kabul last year, and three member of the PRT have died in Afghanistan. (Xinhua-ANI)

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