NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg hails progress in Afghanistan as New Zealand pulls back

The leader of NATO is hailing progress being made to achieve peace in Afghanistan at the same time New Zealand is reducing and changing its presence there. 

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), visited Wellington on Tuesday, where he praised New Zealand's contribution in Afghanistan. 

"New Zealand's contribution has been of great importance," Stoltenberg - the former Prime Minister of Norway - said standing alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

"Partly because you provide high-quality training and advisers; you are part of our training efforts at the military academy in Kabul."

The NATO leader's praise over Defence Force personnel follows the Government's announcement in June that New Zealand's presence in Afghanistan and Iraq would be decreased. 

Cabinet agreed to continue New Zealand's deployment mandate to Afghanistan out to December 2020, and to explore opportunities to support women, peace and security initiatives there. 

Defence Force personnel will be decreased from 13 to 11 over that period. 

"The whole idea is that prevention is better than intervention," Stoltenberg said, when asked by Newshub if he would like New Zealand troops to continue contributing to NATO's mission in Afghanistan. 

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Beehive in Wellington.
Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Beehive in Wellington. Photo credit: Getty

"To train Afghans to stabilise their own country is the best way to avoid us being forced back into combat operation in Afghanistan," he said. 

"New Zealand has participated in those efforts and I greatly value and appreciate those efforts by New Zealand in our training mission."

The Defence Force has contributed personnel to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy just outside of Kabul since 2013, to mentor and support the development of Afghanistan's forces. 

The Prime Minister said while New Zealand has had a presence in Afghanistan for some time, "Cabinet's recent decision acknowledges is that the environment is changing". 

"Peace negotiations are underway, and the decision we recently made around our troops which is a slightly lessened presence from 13 to 11, but really specifically targeting roles that can support the peace process."

She said three NZ personnel - two starting from September - will be focused specifically on the role of women and "supporting the preservation of what's been gained for women in Afghanistan". 

NATO leader and Prime Minister shake hands in Wellington.
NATO leader and Prime Minister shake hands in Wellington. Photo credit: Getty

"Our role is changing but so is the conflict there and I think it's right that we use New Zealand's strengths but also our values and reflect that in the job that we do in Afghanistan."

In September last year, the Prime Minister extended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite promising in opposition to pull the troops out.

Stoltenberg said the presence of New Zealand trainers has helped the NATO mission to recruit women to the Afghan police and the Afghan security forces.

He said the mission will only continue for as long as is "necessary". 

"Afghans are taking more responsibility for security themselves, but we continue to support and help them," Stoltenberg said. 

The NATO leader's comments follow talks between the US and the Taliban who have been in discussions in Qatar's capital Doha over a peace agreement to end the 18-year conflict. 

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and wants assurances from the Taliban that if it and other US-led foreign forces leave, Afghanistan will not become a haven for terrorists. 

New Zealand has made a military contribution to Afghanistan since 2001, and has lost 10 soldiers there, most while carrying out their duties as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Bamyan Province. 

Three were killed in 2012 by an improvised explosive device. 


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