New Zealand announces earlier exit
KABUL (PAN): New Zealand on Monday announced withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan earlier in 2013 than planned, with Prime Minister John Key saying the move was not prompted by the deaths this month of five New Zealand soldiers.
New Zealand troops have been stationed in central Bamyan province, where August’s deaths account for half of all fatalities suffered by the small contingent of New Zealanders in the nine years.
Key said that the remaining soldiers from the contingent of 145 would be withdrawn in early 2013. He said discussions for the earlier withdrawal began before the five deaths this month, including three who were killed Sunday by a roadside bomb.
New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister Murray McCully had announced in May the troops would be withdrawn ‘in the latter part of 2013.’
The prime minister said he wants to bring home the troops as fast as practicable within a timetable that fits in with the coalition partners. “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,” he said, rejecting calls to end the operation immediately.
“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,”’ he said. “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.
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