Clark deceptive over SAS withdrawal

Green MP Keith Locke has accused Helen Clark of being unnecessarily deceptive over the withdrawal of SAS troops from Afghanistan last year, and of hanging Bill English out to dry.

Official Information Act papers obtained by the Sunday Star-Times reveal that the Government decided on 31 July, 2002 to pull New Zealand’s SAS troops out of Afghanistan in December last year. That is, the decision was made three months before National leader Bill English called for their withdrawal.

“Helen Clark was deceiving all of us about when the troops would come home,” Mr Locke said. “The blanket of secrecy was used to play silly political games and score points off Bill English. It was all so unnecessary. She could have told us the SAS would be home in December. Instead Bill English was hung out to dry.”

The papers also reveal that New Zealand could remain part of the United States-led military effort in Afghanistan until the end of 2004.

“Mr Burton now says this was a time frame provided by military chiefs, not ministers. However, it is stated in the November Cabinet paper, without qualification, that ‘an infantry element could be contributed to Enduring Freedom operations from late 2004.’ There is no suggestion in the papers that the Government disagrees with a time frame through 2004, which is very concerning,” Mr Locke said.

“The Government must explain why it was even thinking of making such a commitment on the ground when the emphasis of the US-led military effort has now shifted from al Qaeda to the dirty little civil war between the factions of rival Afghan warlords.”

Other options explored in the released papers are sending an Army reconnaissance and surveillance squadron, training Afghan army troops, and deploying the tanker Endeavour.

“The $5 million the papers specify as being spent on deploying a frigate and an Orion would be better spent on rebuilding the infrastructure of Afghanistan, which we must bear some responsibility for helping to collapse. Instead, the emphasis is still on military and logistical aid for the American military machine.

“In continuing to contribute to Operation Enduring Freedom, we have become a proxy for the Pentagon, allowing the US to pull its own troops and ships out of one war-zone and use them in another, in this case Iraq and the Gulf,” Mr Locke said.