New Zealand to conclude Afghanistan deployment in 2021 after 20 years

New Zealand to conclude Afghanistan deployment in 2021 after 20 years
Photo credit: File

New Zealand will conclude its Afghanistan deployment in 2021 after 20 years, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

"After 20 years of a [New Zealand Defence Force] presence in Afghanistan, it is now time to conclude our deployment," Ardern said in a statement on Wednesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the decision to conclude New Zealand's deployment to Afghanistan in 2021 has been discussed with our key partners.

"New Zealand will continue to be supportive of the Afghan Government and its people in the years to come, including as they work through the intra-Afghan peace process in an effort to resolve the decades-long conflict," she said.

Defence Minister Peeni Henare said the current deployment consists of six  personnel - three deployed to the Afghanistan National Army Officer Academy, and three deployed to the NATO Resolute Support Mission Headquarters.

"Together with our partners, New Zealand helped to establish the conditions for the current intra-Afghan peace process. We've supported regional security, and helped to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan, particularly in Bamyan Province," Penare said.

"Another important element of New Zealand's support for Afghanistan has been our contribution to training and mentoring a new generation of officers in the Afghanistan Army.

"The success of the mentoring programme being conducted with the Afghanistan National Army Officer Academy means it is now self-sufficient enough for New Zealand's contribution there to conclude."

In September 2018, Ardern extended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite promising in opposition to pull the troops out.

But in June 2019 she said New Zealand's presence in Afghanistan and Iraq would be decreased. The Afghanistan deployment was set out to December 2020, to focus on opportunities to support women, peace and security initiatives.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after Al-Qaeda's attack on New York's World Trade Centre. The US has since sought assurances from the Taliban - a political and military group within Afghanistan - that if it and other US-led foreign forces leave, the country will not become a haven for terrorists.

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

Three Kiwis were killed in 2012 by an improvised explosive device.

"The deployments to Afghanistan have been one of the longest running in our history, and I wish to acknowledge the 10 New Zealanders who lost their lives in the line of duty," Ardern said.

She also acknowledged the more than 3500 Defence Force and other agency personnel, "whose commitment to replace conflict with peace will always be remembered".