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Key shuns call for inquiry into Afghanistan deployment

Published: 9:56AM Monday April 02, 2012 Source: ONE News

Prime Minister John Key has rejected opposition calls for an inquiry into the deployment of New Zealand Special Air Service troops to Afghanistan.

The troops are set to return home after a two-and-a-half year deployment ordered by Key in September 2009, following three rotations under the previous Labour government.

The Labour Party says secrecy was fine while the SAS troops were deployed, but now that they are coming home, the country needs to know what kept them there so long.

Key told TV ONE's Breakfast the troops went to train the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) - the Afghan National Police - but the CRU were the frontline.

"They are the ones actually undertaking the missions. The New Zealanders supported them. So there were times where the mission would go very badly because of the extent of the Taliban activities and our guys would be on the frontline," he said.

"And tragically that cost the lives of Dougie Grant and Leon Smith and that's a tremendous tragedy. But for the most part we weren't actually leading the mission."

Lance Corporal Leon Smith died after he was shot in the head during a raid on a compound in Wardak province south of Kabul last September, weeks after Corporal Douglas Grant was killed trying to rescue hostages in the capital.

New Zealand journalist John Stevenson raised questions about whether or not New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan were handing over prisoners to forces which then may have used torture.

Key said today the Government utterly rejected those comments at the time Stevenson made them.

"We stand by the statements we made back then which is New Zealand has acted fully and professionally and in line with ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] Nato requirements," Key said.

"I think there was one incident where a person was detained and they went through the proper process."

'Helped protect New Zealanders'

Defence Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman says the Government deployed Defence Force personnel to Afghanistan to help ensure Al Qaeda could not maintain safe havens in Afghanistan from which to plan further attacks.

"In this sense, the NZSAS deployments have directly helped protect New Zealanders from the risk of international terrorism," Coleman said.

The SAS has conducted operations against insurgent networks, predominantly insurgent IED and suicide bomber networks, he said.

Equally significant has been the mission to improve the capability of the Crisis Response Unit in the conduct of Counter Terrorist operations, Coleman said.

"This was a direct response to the international community's goal of increasing the capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces," Coleman said.

He says the NZSAS has won accolades for the way it has carried out its mission.

The former NATO-ISAF commander General Petraeus had praised the NZSAS task group, in co-operation with the Crisis Response Unit, in disrupting 'a fairly constant stream of threat to the security of Kabul'.

'Brave men'

The Minister also acknowledged the loss of Corporal Grant, and Lance Corporal Smith.

"They were brave men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of New Zealand. Our thoughts continue to be with their families and colleagues."

The families of the two SAS soldiers have been presented with the NZ Memorial Cross. Lance Corporal Smith has also been posthumously awarded the Charles Upham Award for Bravery.

"The SAS have served New Zealand with distinction over the course of their deployments in Afghanistan. It's been a job well done," Coleman said.