Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, and Defence Minister Ron Mark have announced an extension of the New Zealand Defence Force military training deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a renewal of three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa.
"The decision to deploy defence force personnel overseas is one of the hardest for any government to take, especially when these deployments are to challenging and dangerous environments," Jacinda Ardern said.
"The Government has weighed a number of factors, including carefully considering the risks to our servicemen and women based on advice from the New Zealand Defence Force. The decisions themselves were taken following careful Cabinet deliberations."
The Iraq deployment will be extended until June 2019, and the Afghanistan deployment will be extended until September 2019. This allows New Zealand to fulfil its current commitment to both missions.
In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan the Government will be using the coming year to consider all options for New Zealand’s future contributions.
The three peacekeeping missions are to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in the Golan Heights and Lebanon and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.
"The Government has decided to continue with our current commitments to three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa, where we have an established presence and proven track record," Winston Peters said.
"New Zealand has deployed a non-combat training mission to Iraq as part of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition since 2015.
"New Zealand remains firmly committed to international efforts to fight ISIS. Training the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat and prevent the resurgence of ISIS is an important contribution to global peace and security.
"ISIS has also demonstrated its ability to fuel extremist causes and export terror around the globe. We are extremely fortunate not to have experienced a terror attack at home, but our geography does not insulate us from our obligations to support stability and the rule of law internationally.
"The Iraqi Security Forces have made some significant gains. However, it’s clear that ISIS remains a threat, and further support is required to help the Iraqi Security Forces ensure ISIS cannot reassert itself," Winston Peters said.
"New Zealanders can be proud of the professionalism and hard work demonstrated by our Defence Force personnel. Their efforts have helped to lift the Iraqi Security Forces’ capability, and contributed to their liberating Iraqi territory from ISIS," Ron Mark said.
"We will be able to scale down our deployment as the Iraqi Security Forces gradually take over responsibility for their own training. Accordingly, the number of personnel will be reduced from 143 to 121 from this November."
The Government will review the deployment again in early 2019 to assess New Zealand’s options for contributing to stability in Iraq beyond June 2019. Iraq’s training needs will likely have evolved further by that point and the Government will need to evaluate New Zealand’s ongoing commitments.
New Zealand deploys military trainers to mentor, train and support Afghan Army officers.
"New Zealand’s contribution supports the development and training of the Afghanistan Security Forces, building their ability to counter the Taliban and other extremist groups operating in Afghanistan," Jacinda Ardern said.
"We are working with many international partners, and the Government of Afghanistan, to support the Afghan people and to prevent the country from being used once again as a safe haven for groups that aspire to carry out terrorist attacks.
"This goes beyond teaching military tactics and information and communications technology training skills and includes instilling New Zealand’s unique leadership values and ethos with Army cadets that will go on to hold command positions in the Afghanistan Security Forces.
The Government will conduct a strategic reassessment of New Zealand’s contribution to Afghanistan in 2019.
"The New Zealand Defence Force has made a very significant contribution to peace and stability in Afghanistan since 2001. After nearly twenty years, it is time to assess New Zealand’s longer-term presence there, including alternative military and civilian contributions," Winston Peters said.
"New Zealand has a long and proud history of contributions to peacekeeping around the globe," Jacinda Ardern said.
"International peacekeeping helps contribute to a safer and more secure international environment and New Zealand will continue to play its part.
"By their nature, peacekeeping missions operate in risky and volatile environments. The Government has carefully deliberated over these decisions and has been advised that appropriate measures are in place to keep our peacekeepers safe."
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) helps promote peace and protect civilians in one of the world’s most challenging conflicts and humanitarian crises. New Zealand currently contributes five NZDF personnel who provide expert support to the UN Mission’s leadership. New Zealand’s deployment has been extended to July 2020.
UNMISS is led by New Zealander David Shearer, who serves as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
New Zealand has consistently contributed to UNTSO - the United Nations’ first peacekeeping mission - since 1954. We currently deploy up to eight unarmed military observers, who help monitor various peace arrangements agreed between Israel and its neighbours. This deployment will be extended by two years to September 2020.
New Zealand’s deployment to the MFO mission in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has also been extended by two years to September 2020. New Zealand deploys up to 28 personnel in a variety of roles to assist in the monitoring of the border between Israel and Egypt.
Ron Mark served in the first tranche of New Zealand peacekeepers sent to establish the MFO in 1982.
"I have seen first-hand the value which New Zealanders can add to peacekeeping missions and the difference these missions make to the safety and security of the region," Ron Mark said.
"These three deployments are important elements of New Zealand’s global defence engagement and our proud peacekeeping heritage.
More information on NZDF’s peacekeeping deployments can be found at www.defence.govt.nz/what-we-do/diplomacy-and-deployments/deployment-map/