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New Zealand defence minister discusses military withdrawal with Afghanistan authorities

New Zealand Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman revealed Wednesday that he had been in Afghanistan in recent days to discuss the withdrawal of New Zealand troops from the country by April next year.

Coleman visited the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan Province and held talks with officials in Bamyan and Kabul.

"The visit was an opportunity to offer support to the PRT for the important work it has been performing in providing security to the province," Coleman said in a statement.

"I was also able to discuss New Zealand's departure from Bamyan with the provincial governor and local security chiefs and to assess the work that needs to be done between now and April to ensure that the gains of the past decade are sustained in the long term," he said.

"New Zealand's decade in Bamyan will have made a massive difference in quality of life to the people there."

Coleman visited New Zealand development projects in Bamyan, including those in solar energy, agriculture, education and health.

He also spent a day in Kabul where he met with Afghanistan's newly appointed Defence Minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, and held talks with senior International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF) commanders.

Last month, the New Zealand government confirmed it would withdraw the bulk of its armed forces from Afghanistan after 10 years by the end of April next year.

The withdrawal, which would follow the expected completion of transition of security responsibility to local Bamyan forces at the beginning of October, had been endorsed by ISAF and been signaled well in advance to partners, said the government.

New Zealand was likely to continue to contribute a small number of NZDF (New Zealand Defence Force) trainers to the Afghanistan National Army Officer Training Academy later in 2013 and maintain a presence in ISAF headquarters.

The government had previously said the withdrawal would take place in 2014 before changing the timetable to late next year and finally confirming April as the deadline.

In August, five members of the PRT were killed in two separate attacks in Bamyan.

[Source: Xinhua, Wellington, 03Oct12]

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