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Statement From PM on Afghanistan

Prime Minister Helen Clark completed a short visit to Afghanistan.

Helen Clark spent 24 hours with the New Zealand Defence Force Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamian Province, and also called on Afghani President Hamid Kazai, King Zahir Shah, and the leadership of the international peacekeeping mission based in Kabul.

The Prime Minister said the visit had allowed her to experience first-hand the valuable contribution that NZDF personnel were making to efforts to improve security and rebuild services and infrastructure in war torn Afghanistan.

“Talks with Afghan government leaders had canvassed upcoming elections, the government’s struggle to extend its authority outside Kabul, international aid, continuing problems with factionalism and the narcotics trade, and measures to rebuild the economy,” Helen Clark said.

“The New Zealand PRT is doing an excellent job in Bamian Province, which is part of the Hazarajat region, one of the most impoverished areas of Afghanistan.

“I was struck by the rugged beauty of the area and the harshness of the conditions in which the New Zealanders are working at high altitude. This dry, dusty region is very hot by day, but temperatures plummet to below freezing at night.

“The presence of our 95-person PRT is helping to provide greater stability in a region which has experienced much bloodshed and destruction in recent years. Stability will be the platform on which progress can be made.

“New Zealand took over command from the United States of the PRT in Bamian in September, and already the Kiwis have made a positive impact. Both the King and the President warmly expressed their appreciation of New Zealand’s contribution.

“As well as promoting security through its patrols and liaison with local communities, the PRT is also involved in project managing reconstruction in the province.

“New Zealanders can be proud of the achievements to date of the NZDF personnel in Bamian,” Helen Clark said.

The Prime Minister, who was accompanied on the visit by Chief of Defence Force Bruce Ferguson, left Kabul today for Dubai on a RNZAF Hercules C130 aircraft.

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