Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has announced the government now expects transition in Afghanistan's Bamyan province to be formally concluded later in 2012, and the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to be withdrawn later in 2013.
Mr McCully says the earlier conclusion of transition and withdrawal "reflects the outstanding work that New Zealand PRT personnel have done to prepare the province for transition to local control".
Mr McCully made the announcement in Chicago where he is attending a NATO summit hosted by President Obama.
The meeting, also attended by Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman, involves heads of government, foreign ministers and defence ministers from the 50 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries.
Considerable work has been undertaken over recent months to ensure the agreement of partners to today's announcement, Mr McCully says.
"The New Zealand-led PRT has done an excellent job in Bamyan, reflected in the province being selected amongst the first tranche for transition. It is now likely that the Afghan Government and ISAF will formally declare that transition to be completed later in 2012.
"At the recent Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brussels I met with ISAF leadership, senior Afghan ministers and other partners to review the timetable in light of an earlier than expected completion of the transition process. All have agreed to our proposal that the PRT wind up its role in the latter part of 2013.
"While I was attending that meeting, Dr Coleman was in Afghanistan ensuring that we had a full understanding of the completion of the transition process, including holding discussions with Governor Sarabi.
"Over the coming weeks a specialist team will visit Bamyan to draw up a detailed plan for the wind down in the province. We are intent on ensuring that the province is well prepared for the next steps and that major development projects are completed," Mr McCully says.
"New Zealand-funded agricultural projects and the new solar energy plant will be substantively completed, as will the Japanese-funded sealing of the airport runway. Training of the new Provincial Quick Reaction Force will also have concluded.
"The government has agreed to continue to contribute to the international effort in Afghanistan in a number of ways. A small number of training officers will be made available to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy from 2013. A three year commitment of US$2 million per year has been made to Afghan National Security Force rule of law projects in Bamyan, and we will maintain an on-going development presence in the province.
"Today's announcement is a significant milestone, reflecting the huge contribution made by New Zealand in Afghanistan since 2003. It will be important that we remain focused and committed to ensure a smooth completion of the transition process," Mr McCully says.
Media contact: Stephanie McKay ph 021 241 0027
The Minister's speeches and statements can be found at <a href="http://www.beehive.govt.nz/">www.beehive.govt.nz</a>
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