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New Zealand anxious to pull troops

WELLINGTON — New Zealand will accelerate the withdrawal of its soldiers from Afghanistan after it lost another three troops in a province thought to have been the country’s safest, but which is now being increasingly targeted by Taliban insurgents.

Prime Minister John Key said today it was “highly likely” Wellington would start the pullout of its 145-strong contingent by next April, around six months earlier than expected.

But the draw down would happen over months and “not days”, Key said, adding the accelerated timetable was not because of the five soldiers killed this month in central Bamiyan and increasing unpopularity of the war among voters.

Bamiyan was one of the first provinces to be handed over to Afghan security forces in July 2011, ahead of a withdrawal of most NATO combat troops to be completed in 2014 and leaving behind it a reduced number of trainers and special forces.

“I want our boys and girls to come home and it’s awful that we’ve lost them,” Key said. “But we are in this now and we’ve been in it for a long time and we have to make the exit in a considered way. We’re not the sort of country that cuts and runs.”

New Zealand’s move to bring troops home early follows France, the fifth biggest troop contributor to the NATO-led coalition and which has also moved its withdrawal forward following a string of insider attacks.

Three New Zealand soldiers, including a woman, were killed by an improvised bomb in northeast Bamiyan yesterday, thought to be the country’s most secure province until a string of recent attacks by insurgents on foreign and Afghan forces. (Reuters)

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