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Key makes secret visit to Afghanistan

Guyon Espiner

By Political Editor Guyon Espiner ONE News Political Editor

Published: 5:25AM Tuesday May 04, 2010 Source: ONE News

John Key has made a secret visit to Afghanistan, meeting the elite Special Air Services troops, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United States General in charge of running the war.

Key flew into Dubai just before 3am (NZT) on board a New Zealand Air Force C130 Hercules after spending three days in the war torn country.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul the Prime Minister was taken by American Black Hawk helicopters to visit the 70-plus contingent of SAS at their base in a secret location on the outskirts of the city.

Key thanked the SAS for their service in Kabul, where they have been operating with the Afghan National Army's Crisis Response Unit.

The Prime Minister says that having deployed the SAS he felt obligated to visit them.

"I wasn't prepared to send people to a place I wasn't prepared to go myself."

Key also revealed that the SAS unit had recently discovered a large cache of explosives, missiles and hand grenades, destined to be used by insurgents trying to destabilise the government in Kabul.

The SAS are scheduled to leave Afghanistan next March but the Prime Minister says the unit wants to stay longer and Cabinet will now consider leaving a smaller contingent - perhaps 20-25 - in Kabul for an extended period.

"The SAS preference would be to have a smaller contingent stay for a bit longer but whether that meets favour with us is something we'd need to consider," he says.

Key also met the US Commander General Stanley McChrystal for a briefing on the state of the nine-year-old war.

In an interview with New Zealand journalists, the five star general conceded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was not yet winning the war against the insurgents, loosely known as the Taliban.

"I believe right now that the insurgency does not have the momentum. I'm not prepared to say that we have it," the general said, speaking from the war room at the ISAF base in the heavily fortified area of Kabul known as the Green Zone.

General McChrystal strongly hinted he wants New Zealand to extend its military footprint in Afghanistan although he stopped short of making a direct request in his meeting with Key.

"I indicated the value of how much we appreciated the value and effectiveness of the force but it's inappropriate of me to have those kind of dealings with international leaders," General McChrystal says.

There are 46 nations contributing more than 130,000 troops to the war, sparked after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

Although US intelligence estimates there are only 10,000-20,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan their use of guerrilla war tactics including suicide bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices means many parts of the country remain highly volatile.

Key also visited one of the more peaceful parts of Afghanistan, the central highland area of Bamiyan Province, where New Zealand leads a Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The visit was planned in secret for months because of government concerns publicity could compromise Key's security.

New Zealand media, including Television New Zealand, signed an agreement with the New Zealand Defence Force that material would not be broadcast or published before Key landed back in Dubai.

Media also signed up to restrictions limiting the images that could be shown of the SAS troops, who provided the security detail on his first visit to Afghanistan.

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