Afghan deaths won't speed up withdrawal

The deaths of three more soldiers in Afghanistan won't hasten the withdrawal of New Zealand troops, Prime Minister John Key says.



The three members of New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team were travelling in the last vehicle in a convoy in the northeast of Bamyan province, on the road to Romero, when an improvised explosive device exploded about 9.20am on Sunday (local time), the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) says.

Mr Key told TVNZ's Breakfast the soldiers were killed in an "enormous explosion" from the bomb and would have "certainly lost their lives instantly".

He said their deaths - just two weeks after Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone were killed by Afghan insurgents - will not cause the government to pull the troops out earlier than the planned 2013 date.

"To leave early wouldn't be sensible, it wouldn't be practical and it wouldn't be right," Mr Key said.

"We can work on a programme of withdrawal and support, which we are, but to turn around this morning and say we are leaving as a result of these deaths wouldn't honour the three brave people we have lost.

"Secondly (it) is not the way New Zealand operates ... I don't think we are the type of country that cuts and runs."

He told TV3's Firstline that before the deaths of Lance Corporals Malone and Durrer the government had been looking at withdrawing the troops early in 2013, as it would be safer than doing it later in the year.

Labour leader David Shearer told NZ Newswire the deaths are "a terrible tragedy".

He says New Zealand should withdraw "as soon as practicable", without "cutting and running".

"That would undo nine years of hard work and sacrifice. We have to give the Afghans every opportunity to be able to stand on their own two feet and continue on without us, but at the same time, I would want to see us out sooner rather than later."

Mr Shearer says the New Zealand soldiers have done great work and helped create stability in Afghanistan, "but ultimately we can't win the war".

"That can only be Afghanistan that can do that, but unfortunately their government ... is corrupt and it's flawed in terms of its ability to be able to take on the whole job of ruling."

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae - a former chief of Defence Force - offered his condolences.

"While serving in warn-torn countries such as Afghanistan carries great risks, the deaths of these three soldiers, so soon after the loss of Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance Corporal Rory Patrick Malone earlier this month, is a great tragedy," he said.

Sir Jerry said the provincial reconstruction team has worked tirelessly to bring peace and security to Bamyan for years, and their service is a credit to New Zealand.