Orion on a mystery mission to the Middle East

Green MP Keith Locke today questioned in the House the secrecy around New Zealand’s latest reinforcement to the US-led operations in the Middle East, but was denied an explanation by Defence Minister Mark Burton.

An RNZAF Orion leaves for a “secret” base on Sunday, to carry out surveillance work in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, in which the frigate Te Mana is already serving.

“It is unacceptable that New Zealanders cannot even be told where our Orion will be located,” said Mr Locke, the Green Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

“We shouldn’t be colluding with a mystery state to hide from its people that US-led military operations are being conducted from its soil.

“Why should we help some Gulf dictatorship avoid accountability to its own people? Opinion polls demonstrate that few Arab people would favour their government hosting US or allied military forces.

“This is not the way to make New Zealand popular in the Middle East.

“It is yet another reason for us to withdraw from the US-run Maritime Interdiction Operation. Our frigate’s main ‘achievement’ so far has been to escort US warships through the Strait of Hormuz en route to war, which is hardly consistent with our peace stand.

“The frigate’s supposed anti-terrorist mission has fallen flat. Not one terrorist has been detained.

“It seems our naval and air forces have been despatched to the Gulf mainly as a goodwill gesture to the White House, so that we don’t get too offside with George Bush.

“Such over-the-top secrecy around the Orion is no more acceptable that the blanket secrecy surrounding our SAS activities in Afghanistan last year.”