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New Zealand troops to remain in Afghanistan: PM

(Xinhua)

15:44, August 20, 2012

WELLINGTON, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Monday that New Zealand troops would remain in Afghanistan until next year, despite the deaths of five soldiers so far this month.

Key was speaking at a press conference after a young medic became the first New Zealand woman soldier to die in Afghanistan when she and two male colleagues were killed by a roadside bomb Sunday.

The New Zealand Defence Force Monday named the three members of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team who died when their vehicle was blasted by an improvised explosive device (IED) in the northeast of Bamyan Province.

They were medic Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and infantry troops Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, and Private Richard Harris, 21.

All three were serving with the 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

The troops were traveling in the last vehicle in a convoy northwest of Do Abe on the road to Romero, when it was hit by the blast at about 9:20 a.m. Sunday Afghanistan time.

The remaining personnel in the patrol secured the location and waited for support, said an NZDF statement.

Their deaths followed those of two other members of the provincial reconstruction team in an insurgent attack on Aug. 4 and they bring the total number of New Zealand troops killed in Afghanistan to 10.

Radio New Zealand reported that Key said New Zealand soldiers had been in Bamyan since 2003 and it was highly likely that troops would be brought home about April next year.

New Zealand had to rely on another coalition partner for logistical support and at the moment those arrangements meant April was the most likely date, he said.

Key told Radio New Zealand earlier Monday that "to cut and run now would not honor those deaths" and he thought the families of those who had died in Afghanistan would be shocked if New Zealand pulled out now.

Key said there had been increased insurgent activity in the northeast of Bamyan Province where a new bomb-maker had been working.

He told Radio New Zealand that New Zealand forces have been targeting him for some time and Sunday's deadly blast might be linked to his work.

Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, said in a statement that the NZDF remained committed to ensuring a smooth and measured handover of responsibility to Afghan authorities.

"New Zealand should be proud of our contribution in Bamyan, and so too the families of those who have been killed in the service of New Zealand in Afghanistan. Their sacrifice has not been in vain," he said.

"As a result of the security that the Provincial Reconstruction Team provides significant progress has been made and is clearly visible in the classrooms built; the wells and village water supplies hooked up; the roads that have been paved; the bridges and flood protection constructed; and in the hospitals refurbished. "
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