New Zealand announces withdrawal of its remaining troops from Afghanistan

The decision to withdraw its troops was announced before the crucial meeting of constituents of NATO countries on Wednesday and the NATO’s chief’s assertion on Monday that it will not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan until the time is right

February 17, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
By New Zealand Defence Force from Wellington, New Zealand, CC BY 2.0. Photo : Wikimedia Commons

New Zealand, a major non-NATO ally of the United States, announced on Wednesday, February 17, that its remaining troops stationed in Afghanistan will leave the country in May. The announcement made by prime minister Jacinda Ardern marks the end of two-decade-long direct involvement of the New Zealand Defence Force (NDF) in Afghanistan.

New Zealand, a key constituent of an international alliance built by the US to invade Afghanistan in 2001, currently has only six personnel deployed in Afghanistan. In the last 20 years, New Zealand deployed around 3,500 personnel in total in the country.

Troops who are part of the NATO-led US invasion in Afghanistan were later recognized as International Security Assistance Force by the UN security Council in December 2001.

Forces from New Zealand in Afghanistan have faced several accusations of human rights violations. A report published last year in an investigation launched in 2018 about its personnel’s involvement in Operation Burnham in Afghanistan’s Tirgiran valley in 2010 concluded that the NDF lied about the death of the civilians in the operation.   

New Zealand’s decision to withdraw its remaining forces from Afghanistan indicates disagreement among the NATO members. On Monday, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said that its troops will leave Afghanistan only when the time is appropriate and demanded that the Taliban fulfill its part of the deal it signed with the US in February last year.

NATO has around 10,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. Its 30 constituents are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to decide the fate of their soldiers in the country. Disagreements over the troops among the NATO members increased after the Trump administration decided to cut the number of its forces in December down to 2,500, its lowest since the invasion in 2001.  

Meanwhile, Taliban issued an open letter on Tuesday demanding that the US follow the deal signed in February and withdraw its remaining forces from Afghanistan. However, the Afghan government says that the conditions are not conducive for the foreign troops to leave the country.

In February 2020, the US and Taliban had signed a deal according to which all international forces will leave the country by the end of May 2021. However, the new Biden administration has promised to review the deal following objections raised by US congressmen.  

New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta replied to the concerns saying that “while the environment remains complex, the intra-Afghan peace process gives Afghanistan the best chance of an enduring political solution,” Radio New Zealand reported.

*An earlier version of this copy erroneously referred to New Zealand as a NATO member. It is instead a major non-NATO ally of the United States. The error is regretted.