New Zealand commando troops have begun a fourth deployment in Afghanistan following a US request for the troops to return to the war-torn country, Prime Minister John Key said Monday.
A unit of 71 strategic air service troops flew to Afghanistan last week on the first of three six-month rotations for the commandos, who will be attached to NATO forces, he said. The United States has repeatedly asked New Zealand to raise its troop levels in recent months and specifically asked for its elite commandos to return.
The commandos were deployed to help US forces oust the Taliban regime following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and they returned for tours of duty in 2003 and 2006.
Key said the units would spend six months at a time in Afghanistan on their latest 18-month deployment, but declined to give further information citing operational secrecy. Despite concerns about fraud in the recent presidential election, New Zealand continues to support the government of President Hamid Karzai "as we seek to try and stabilize Afghanistan ... and ultimately control can be wrestled back ... from the Taliban," he said.
Deploying the troops was the right decision, despite many New Zealanders being opposed to the idea, Key said.
"The alternative is we are left with a country where control is ceded to the Taliban and where in all probability more terrorist activities will be planned," he said. "I don't believe that's in anybody's best interest."
Key announced last month that troops in New Zealand's 140-strong provincial reconstruction team will gradually be drawn down by 2014. The troops have operated in Bamiyan province northeast of the capital, Kabul, since 2003.
The move implemented Key's exit strategy for the regular troops, who currently are committed to stay in Afghanistan until September 2010.