Monday, 20 August 2012 19:12
New Zealand's (NZ) Prime Minister John Key on Monday said that the country's troops will remain in Afghanistan into 2013, but signaled that they may leave earlier than a previously said date of late 2013.
"Ministers have for some weeks been considering options for an orderly withdrawal from the region during 2013. While decisions still have to be finalised, it's likely it will take place in the earlier part of 2013 rather than the later," he said in a press conference Monday.
NZ Foreign Affairs minister Murray McCully had said in May that the troops would be withdrawn "in the latter part of 2013".
Key said the consideration of an earlier withdrawal was not related to the recent deaths of the country's troops.
Three of the country's soldiers died Sunday in the blast from an improvised explosive device, bringing to five the total number of NZ soldiers killed this month - half the total number of NZ troops killed in the country's nine years of involvement in the Afghan war.
The NZ Defence Force said the three members of the NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team - female medic Lance Cpl. Jacinda Baker, 26, Cpl. Luke Tamatea, 31, and Pvt. Richard Harris, 21 - were killed when their vehicle was struck by an IED in the northeast of Bamiyan province, long considered once of Afghanistan's safest.
The incident marked the first time a New Zealand woman has died in the conflict.
"New Zealand should be proud of our contribution in Bamyan, and so too the families of those who have been killed in the service of New Zealand in Afghanistan. Their sacrifice has not been in vain," Key said.
"As a result of the security that the Provincial Reconstruction Team provides significant progress has been made and is clearly visible in the classrooms built; the wells and village water supplies hooked up; the roads that have been paved; the bridges and flood protection constructed; and in the hospitals refurbished," he added.
The troops were traveling in the last vehicle in a four-vehicle convoy on the road to Romero when it was hit by the blast at about 9:20 am Sunday.
An increase in insurgent activity has been reported from Afghan officials in Bamyan in recent months, targeting Nato-led troops and Afghan security forces.