Minister visits Middle East, Afghan deployments

  • Hon Ron Mark

On his first overseas trip in the job, Defence Minister Ron Mark has completed a round of visits to Defence Force deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Mark was accompanied on the trip by Justice Minister Andrew Little and Simon O’Connor MP, chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee. During the visits the group attended top-level meetings and military briefings, saw a variety of NZDF activities at each location and took numerous opportunities to engage with deployed personnel.

"One of my priorities for the Defence portfolio is to increase the levels of cross-party engagement and bipartisanship on Defence and security issues. Ensuring that this visit included as many Parliamentary parties as was possible was important to me particularly given the significant decisions the Government will make in due course on military deployments"

Mr Mark said that the discussions and briefings he had had throughout the trip were highly valuable, and that at every location, New Zealand personnel are essential and well-respected contributors to their missions.

“I am extremely impressed with the skills and commitment to excellence our personnel, and their colleagues from partner nations, are bringing to the vital tasks they are doing.

 “It was a great pleasure, to see them training or at work in the field and spend some time with them in camp. They are all doing us proud, and I congratulate them on their professionalism,” he said.

 In Iraq, Mr Mark held meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Minister of Defence Erfan al-Hayali and Major General Robert White, the Combined Joint Task Forces Land Component Commander, before travelling to the Taji Military Complex, where the combined New Zealand-Australia Building Partner Capacity training mission is based.

 “New Zealand is pleased to be doing our part in supporting Iraq in the fight against the global threat of ISIS,” Mr Mark said.

 “Our joint mission with Australia continues to track well: we have now trained over 30,000 Iraqi personnel,” he said.

 Bad weather hindered internal travel in Afghanistan but the group held teleconference meetings with senior NATO mission leaders, the 11 Defence Force personnel deployed as mentors and support personnel to the Afghanistan National Army Officer Academy, and met the two NZDF staff who work in the NATO mission headquarters. Planned meetings with the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, and the Afghan Minister of Defence, Tariq Shah Bahrami, were regretfully unable to take place.

 “We continue to be engaged in Afghanistan to play our part in preventing the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorist organisations,” Mr Mark said. 

 “Our commitment is a training contribution to help the Afghanistan Army take responsibility for Afghanistan’s security, and defend the country and its people against the Taliban and other insurgent groups,” he said.

In the United Arab Emirates, a key Middle East partner for New Zealand, the Minister met with Minister of State for Defence Affairs Mohammed Ahmed al-Bowardi and Defence Undersecretary Matar Salem Ali al-Dhaheri. The Ministers shared views on the regional security outlook for the Middle East, and discussed ongoing engagement and co-operation.

New Zealand is currently contributing a P-3 aircraft to maritime security and counter-piracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden, an area through which 23,000 ships pass annually.

“The UAE is an important defence and economic relationship for New Zealand, and a key partner for role in regional stability and protecting trade,” Mr Mark said.