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Leave Afghanistan 'as soon as practical’- Shearer

Monday 20 Aug 2012 10:22 a.m.

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By 3 News online staff

Labour Leader David Shearer says New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan “as soon as practical”.

“I don’t think we should be cutting and running, because that will undo the very good work we’ve done over the last nine years. But we shouldn’t be staying any longer than we have to – I’m talking about months, rather than a year and a half,” he told Rachel Smalley on Firstline.

The Government is still deciding exactly when troops will leave Afghanistan, but Prime Minister John Key says it could possibly happen early next year.

Mr Shearer says New Zealand troops have already done an “extraordinarily good job” in Bamiyan, especially in developing health services and training the local police force.

“We can’t win the war for the Afghanis…and it seems to me we’ve done as much as we can,” he says.

Mr Shearer believes it would be a mistake to respond to the latest deaths by sending more troops into the region as backup, putting more lives in danger.

“You can’t do that alone as a New Zealander, you have to do it in cooperation with the other coalition soldiers and forces that are there,” he says. “We do need the intelligence support, we do need the helicopter support, and all the other things that go with being able to sustain a bigger presence. And much of that comes from the coalition that’s already there.”

Mr Shearer has first-hand experience of the difficulties faced by foreign troops in Afghanistan. In 2002 he served as a senior adviser to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which was established at the request of the Afghan Government to help establish peace.

He says the country’s rugged terrain is hugely challenging, and the kind of improvised explosive device (IED) used in the most recent attack is difficult to detect.

“The thing about an IED, an explosive device like there is in this case, is that it can be hidden so easily along the side of the road, so it can be made to look like a bush or a rock, or something like that. So they’re very, very difficult to actually combat.”

Mr Shearer says that whatever decisions are made about New Zealand’s involvement, the government needs to be careful not to undo the good work it’s done in Afghanistan over the last nine years.

Watch the video for David Shearer's full interview on Firstline.

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