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Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Flag Lowering Speech

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman
Minister of Defence

5 April 2013

Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Flag Lowering Speech:

E ngā Mana, E Ngā Iwi, E Ngā Reo Tēnā Koutou Tēnā Koutou, Tēnā Koutou Katoa

Your Excellency, the Governor General of New Zealand Sir Jerry Mateparae, and Lady Janine; Dr Habiba Sarabi, Governor of Bamyan; Lt General Rhys Jones, Chief of Defence Force; Helene Quilter, Secretary of Defence; Peter Marshall, Commissioner of Police, Friends of New Zealand and Afghanistan.

I want to acknowledge the service men and women of the NZDF who are here today as well as the thousands who have served here before you.

I feel greatly honoured to be here in Bamyan to witness the flag over Kiwi Base being lowered for the final time. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here in Bamyan for a decade, and it’s been a period of massive change for the province. The progress that has been made reflects a joint effort between a whole range of New Zealand and Afghan government agencies, and is mirrored in the enduring friendship between the peoples of Bamyan and New Zealand.

New Zealand has always expressed a strong commitment to collective security. Back in 2001 the New Zealand Government was keenly aware of the importance of international efforts to counter the threat of Al Qaeda and consequently we deployed our people to Afghanistan in the early stages of the campaign to help root out that movement. We’ve always understood that distance is no immunity from the reach of international terror and the New Zealand lives lost in the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Bali bombing, the London Tube bombings, and the Jakarta Hotel attack bear testament to that.

Our subsequent contribution to stabilising Afghanistan and helping rebuild a country devastated by Taliban rule, has been a major commitment for New Zealand. It’s seen around 3500 New Zealand defence personnel posted to Bamyan in 21 Crib rotations, four separate deployments of 1NZSAS regiment, contributions in ISAF headquarters, the UN mission, and at Bagram airbase. Hundreds of New Zealand Police and Civil Servants have also been posted here.

Our people have provided security, mentoring and training across a whole range of military, policing, governance, development and aid activities. The achievements are very real and ones of which the whole of New Zealand can be justifiably proud.

New Zealanders arrived in Bamyan in 2003 to a province that had been shattered. Hospitals and schools had been destroyed, women and girls had suffered appalling treatment under the Taliban, and families had fled to the relative safety of the hills.

Now we can look around and see the impact our team has made in this region. Bamyan’s hospital has been rebuilt and new health centres have opened in all seven districts. Mortality rates for children under five have halved, and maternal deaths are a quarter of Taliban-era levels.

New Zealand’s presence has facilitated the construction of roads that have dramatically improved access across the province to markets, schools, and health facilities. In the early days of our time here the NZDF literally built bridges that connect communities and helped the economy start to get back on its feet.

When I talk to people back home the thing that gives the average New Zealander the greatest pride in our involvement here is the massive improvements that have been made in the lives of women and children.

In the time of the Taliban, no girls received any education in Bamyan. Now almost half the children in Bamyan primary schools are girls, thirty-eight percent of teachers are female, and there are 2700 students at Bamyan University, 15% of whom are female. New schools have opened and classrooms have been built around the province. New programmes ensure text books are provided and support the training of teachers. New Zealand has built a new teachers training college residence here in the new town that supports the training of tomorrow’s teachers.

New Zealand’s expertise has improved agriculture in the province. We have supported the training of basic veterinary skills, introduced high performing crops, and modernised farming techniques. New Zealand tractors have replaced the ox-drawn plough for many farmers. We’ve introduced water management and flood protection measures, and in partnership with local communities we’ve helped construct wells across the region and provided access to clean water.

New Zealand is building the largest solar energy system in Afghanistan, right here in Bamyan town. When completed approximately 2,500 houses, businesses, and government offices in Bamyan town will have access to a reliable source of electricity. This will be a model of sustainable energy use in Afghanistan.

Largely as a result of the PRT’s security efforts, over $2 million has been invested in local hotel infrastructure in Bamyan. The seeds of a nascent tourism industry have been sown.

Yet we’re acutely aware that these gains have come at a huge cost. New Zealand mourned the deaths of ten of our service men and women, sacrifices that we felt deeply across our nation. Other service people have been wounded in Afghanistan, and their lives have been fundamentally altered as a result.

Today we remember the sacrifices of Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, Private Kirifi Mila, Corporal Doug Grant, Corporal Leon Smith, Corporal Douglas Hughes, Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer, Lance Corporal Rory Malone, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris, and Corporal Luke Tamatea. These were brave and honourable people, committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan, and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

We acknowledge the losses of the people of Afghanistan , especially the deaths of Afghan National Security Force personnel here in Bamyan. I want to pay special tribute to Governor Sarabi for her inspirational leadership in the province; Bamyan has been very lucky to have you at the helm. I also pay tribute to our partners from other nations who have joined us in the work of the PRT, especially the Malaysian contingent, but there have been many others who the Kiwis have worked with along the way.

Lastly I want to thank and acknowledge the locally engaged staff- the interpreters, the mechanics, the cooks and the cleaners. We could not have carried out our work here without you and I’ve personally made it my duty to ensure that your future is secure after the Kiwis have gone home. We also couldn’t have achieved what we have in Bamyan without the support of the local people, and we acknowledge their role in the province’s recovery.

Our purpose in Afghanistan has always been to support the Afghan people to build capacity in security, governance, health, education, and economic infrastructure to help this country stand on its own two feet. Ultimately the will of the Afghan people will determine the future peace and prosperity of this country.

As we lower the flag today we are proud of what we have delivered in Bamyan. Our imprint on this province will endure, and the sacrifices that have made be will be remembered. We leave this province in relative stability and prosperity, ready for the next chapter in its history to be written by the people of Bamyan.

We return home, proud of what we have achieved and conscious of the legacy we leave behind.

Thank you.

ENDS

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