New Zealand extends Afghan troop deployment

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WELLINGTON, Nov 19 (Reuters) New Zealand has extended the duration of its troop deployment in Afghanistan for two years until September 2009, Prime Minister Helen Clark said today.

The tour of duty for the 120-member provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan province, west of Kabul, had been due to end in September this year.

''A peaceful Afghanistan, able to provide for its people and prevent itself being used as a terrorist base, is in the interests of the international community,'' Clark said in a statement.

She said New Zealand's reconstruction team was making a difference and was welcomed by the Afghan government.

Thirteen other personnel, offering training and medical services, will serve with various forces, which have been present in Afghanistan since a US-led coalition toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Clark said New Zealand would also send a warship to the Gulf region before September next year.

New Zealand troops have been in Afghanistan since December 2001, with the reconstruction team present since September 2003.

In July, a member of New Zealand's special forces was awarded the highest honour for bravery, the Victoria Cross, for a daring rescue of a wounded comrade in Afghanistan in 2004.

Earlier this month, a nephew of New Zealand's defence minister was killed in an ambush In Afghanistan, while serving in the US army.

Reuters SKB DB1108

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