WELLINGTON: New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) deployment to Afghanistan will be extended for another year from April but with half the number of personnel, Prime Minister John Key announced Tuesday.
The troops, which will remain attached to the Afghan Crisis Response Unit, will be reduced to about 35, compared to the current 70. Key expects this to be the last deployment in Afghanistan and said the SAS had requested it to allow troops to complete their work with the crisis response unit so it could continue on without them, the New Zealand Herald reported.
He said the head of the Defense Force had assured him the smaller deployment would not compromise security for the Rugby World Cup, which a number of foreign dignitaries are expected to attend. The SAS is expected to play a crucial role in security.
The conservative National Party-led government sent the troops to Afghanistan in August 2009 after Obama called for more allied troops. Key affirmed that New Zealand was not being pressured to keep the troops in Afghanistan.
"What I would say is that the SAS are extremely well respected for what they do, so obviously our traditional allies on the ground in Afghanistan, the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, and others, obviously would love to see New Zealand SAS there because they do a great job and they make a real difference," Key told reporters.
Green Party defense spokesman Keith Locke said the decision was "a disappointing concession to pressure from the United States."
Opposition leader Phil Goff also called for the troops' withdrawal.
"The SAS are being placed in situations where innocent lives can inadvertently be lost on behalf of a regime that has not won the hearts and minds of its people and which will blame outsiders when things go wrong," he said.
(BNO NEWS )