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The Minister of Defence, Dr Jonathan Coleman, today formally acknowledged the contribution of the New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan as the two-and-half year deployment comes to an end.
The NZSAS were posted to Afghanistan in September 2009 – the fourth deployment of the unit to Afghanistan. This current mission officially ceased on 31 March, 2012.
“The New Zealand Government deployed NZ Defence Force personnel to Afghanistan to help ensure Al Qaeda could not maintain safe havens in Afghanistan from which to plan further attacks.”
“In this sense, the NZSAS deployments have directly helped protect New Zealanders from the risk of international terrorism,” said Dr Coleman.
The NZSAS has conducted operations against insurgent networks, predominantly insurgent IED and suicide bomber networks. Equally significant has been the military assistance mission to improve the capability of the Ministry of Interior Police Crisis Response Unit (CRU) in the conduct of Counter Terrorist operations.
“This was a direct response to the international community’s goal of increasing the capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces,” said Dr Coleman.
Dr Coleman says the NZSAS has won accolades for the way it has carried out its mission, noting the former NATO-ISAF commander General Petraeus’s praise of the NZSAS task group, in co-operation with the CRU, in disrupting ‘a fairly constant stream of threat to the security of Kabul’.
The Minister also acknowledged the loss of Corporal Douglas Grant, and Lance Corporal Leon Smith, who were killed in 2011 in separate operations.
“They were brave men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of New Zealand. Our thoughts continue to be with their families and colleagues.”
The families of the two NZSAS soldiers killed in Afghanistan have been presented with the NZ Memorial Cross. Lance Corporal Leon Smith has also been posthumously awarded the Charles Upham Award for Bravery.
“The SAS have served New Zealand with distinction over the course of their deployments in Afghanistan. It’s been a job well done,” said Dr Coleman.