Top Shows

Contact Q+A

New Zealand's legacy in Afghanistan under fire

By ONE News political reporter Michael Parkin

Published: 9:07AM Friday April 19, 2013 Source: QA

This coming August is when we will begin to know if New Zealand was right to withdraw from Afghanistan's Bamiyan province after 10 years on the ground.

After a harsh, lengthy winter, that's the month, in NZ's experience, when insurgents start becoming more active; six Kiwi soldiers were killed in action in Bamiyan in August 2010 and August 2012.

I've been fortunate enough to visit Afghanistan twice now; in June 2010, I interviewed Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell just weeks before he was killed by a roadside bomb and I returned at the start of this month to cover the ceremonial end of New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team's mission.

In these early months following our troop withdrawal, snow still covers the towering ranges that dominate the province keeping insurgents at bay but when the thaw comes so will the true test of whether Afghan National Police (ANP) officers have the backbone to defend Bamiyan using the training they've garnered from New Zealand forces.

Certainly, the ANP I saw this month was vastly different to what was on show in 2010.

Back then, officers in training tapped stones against wooden cut-outs of AK47's to imitate the sound of gunfire during tactics sessions.

Others turned up wearing dress shoes rather than the issued boots, clearly confident a run wasn't on the cards with their undone shoe laces dragging across the floor.

At the shooting range the ANP pulled up in their battered green Hilux's with no bullets for practice or enough petrol to drive home, knowing full well the New Zealand soldiers would be forced to bend the rules and supply them with guns for the training and fuel for the day.

Contrast that to the show of force New Zealand's top defence officials were treated to last week, for which the ANP turned up in armoured Humvees, faces covered in SAS-like balaclavas, wildly swinging around a rocket launcher in front of overjoyed cameramen.

Now, it's not cheap to fill a Humvee's fuel tank so the resources appear to be there.

The new provincial Police Chief, while reluctant to let the Kiwis leave, is supremely confident the ANP is sufficiently tapped into the population to catch wind on any brewing trouble.

But while outwardly our Government and Defence Force express every confidence that ANP officers will stand and fight and not cut and run when called on, what's happened on the ground tells a different story.

The main New Zealand base in the province has been handed over to local forces but stripped of every generator, computer and satellite dish that could be crammed into a RNZAF Hercules.

What remains then, is effectively a series of DOC huts surrounded by a blast proof fence, hardly a camp to maintain the training of an effective local paramilitary force.

The situation in the province's troublesome north-eastern corner is even worse with the Kiwis levelling their two established bases and returning the cleared land to the original owner rather than leaving fortified strongholds in place for the ANP to now use.

In my opinion, the deconstruction of these bases demonstrates that New Zealand's faith in the ANP is not unequivocal, the fear being that if the officers do cut and run when the bullets start flying a police stronghold could all to easily become a ready-made base for insurgent operations.

For another example of our Government's belief in Bamiyan's on-going safety just take a look at who it's leaving behind to oversee taxpayer funded aid and agriculture projects

…that would be no one; foreign or local contractors have now stepped into the roles once held by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff.

Add to the list of those who can't stay - 30 interpreters and their families who the Government will resettle in Hamilton for $9 million.

What would bolster security in Bamiyan is the addition of some Afghan National Army soldiers (ANA).

As the "safest province in the country" repeated requests for the ANA to establish a base in Bamiyan have fallen on deaf ears in Kabul making it one of the only provinces in the country to be solely secured by the Afghan National Police who by necessity must play both cop and soldier.

As part of our on-going commitment to Afghanistan, eight members of the New Zealand Defence Force will take up roles in Kabul training would-be ANA soldiers for at least the next 12 months.

Three more Kiwis have taken roles in the coalition headquarters and while none of them have been ordered to do so all should feel an obligation to push for the ANA to send some troops to Bamiyan at any and every opportunity they get.

For the threat in Bamiyan does not come from within its own provincial borders but from the surrounding provinces of Baghlan and Wardak - areas known to harbour insurgents that have been largely untroubled by foreign troops since the war began.

For that reason New Zealand could have stayed in Bamiyan for another decade and the safety situation would be unlikely to improve from what it is today because the New Zealand Defence Force never had the mandate or desire to try and root the insurgents out, despite the willingness of some soldiers on the ground.

So at that point, the only move left was to call it a day having given the locals a fighting chance to stand their ground when August and the ensuing months come.

Most Popular

rssLatest News