New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday that the last of her country’s military forces will leave Afghanistan in May, concluding a deployment that began 20 years ago.
About 3,500 New Zealanders served in Afghanistan during that period but, currently, only six members of the New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) are stationed in Afghanistan.
“The deployments to Afghanistan have been one of the longest-running in our history,” Ardern said, paying special tribute to the ten New Zealanders who lost their lives there.
Three of the NZDF members presently in Afghanistan work at an officer training academy, while three are posted at NATO headquarters. Ardern’s foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, said the decision to withdraw them was “discussed with our key partners, with whom we have cooperated closely over the last twenty years.”
“New Zealand will continue to be supportive of the Afghan government and its people in the years to come, including as they work through the intra-Afghan peace process in an effort to resolve the decades-long conflict,” Mahuta said.
“Together with our partners, New Zealand helped to establish the conditions for the current intra-Afghan peace process. We’ve supported regional security, and helped to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan, particularly in Bamyan Province,” said Defense Minister Peeni Henare.
“Another important element of New Zealand’s support for Afghanistan has been our contribution to training and mentoring a new generation of Officers in the Afghanistan Army. The success of the mentoring program being conducted with the Afghanistan National Army Officer Academy means it is now self-sufficient enough for New Zealand’s contribution there to conclude,” he said.
“We looked at the Doha peace arrangement, what our allies were doing, and when we consider our current deployment there now, we felt that as a collective that it was time to end our deployment there,” Henare told New Zealand’s Stuff website in an interview Wednesday, referring to negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar.
“Of course we have ongoing concerns about Afghanistan, but we are at least hopeful for the peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan,” he said.
“I’m sure as we progress into the future and continue to look back on Afghanistan, people will draw their own conclusions on our service there. But myself, as the minister of defense, I’m proud of the defense personnels’ service,” Henare added in an oddly pensive tribute that alluded to the controversy over a 2010 operation that included civilian deaths, and complaints in 2019 about Afghan civilian deaths caused by live ordnance left behind at NZDF firing ranges.
The Doha negotiations mentioned by the New Zealand ministers also included a commitment by the United States to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May 1, although the Biden administration is reportedly reconsidering that timetable. New Zealand is the first foreign government to announce the complete withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan since the Doha talks began.
“We urge all countries that have exhausted their troops in a long and unwinnable war in Afghanistan to take similar steps,” a Taliban spokesman commented on New Zealand’s departure.