NZ signals likely to raise Afghanistan troop level

Prime Minister John Key gave a strong signal Monday that New Zealand likely will increase its troop levels in Afghanistan - with a decision on any fresh commitment by mid-August, reported AP.

He also restated New Zealand's desire for an "exit strategy" for its troops, with its 140-member provincial reconstruction team currently committed until September 2010.

In recent months, the United States has repeatedly asked New Zealand to raise its troop levels and specifically asked for its elite strategic air service commandos to return for a fourth tour of duty. The commandos were last there in 2006 as part of the U.S.-led bid to fight hard-line Islamist insurgents.

"If the world doesn't get on top of the situation in Afghanistan, the counterfactual is that it will become a bigger hotbed for global terrorism," Key said.

"If you lose control of Afghanistan, you are leaving that country and potentially others exposed as a breeding ground for global terrorism. I can't see how that's in New Zealand's best interests," he told reporters.

Afghanistan was "increasingly unstable and allied forces there are under real pressure. The Taliban is gaining greater control of area in Afghanistan," Key said.

Key said his "long term preference" was to leave Afghanistan, noting the cost of New Zealand's deployment in Bamiyan soaks up a lot of resources.

"We would like to have an exit strategy from Afghanistan - that's our driving motivation. We do not long-term want to be there," he said, restating his position of recent months.

"The primary factor is whether we think any change in the composition of our commitment to Afghanistan will make a difference to the situation there ... to the outcome of the war, and whether we'd be successful," he said.

While New Zealand wants to give assistance where it will make a difference, "I'm not attracted to the idea of training the Afghan national army or the Afghan National police force," he said, noting the level of danger involved in such activity.

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