New Zealand to lead Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan

  • Mark Burton

The Minister of Defence, Mark Burton, today announced the deployment of New Zealand service men and women on a twelve-month mission to Afghanistan.

Drawn from across the three services, these NZDF personnel will form a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Based in Bamian, the PRT will be New Zealand-led, with a focus on enhancing the security environment and promoting reconstruction efforts.

The New Zealand personnel will take over an already established mission and will receive logistic support from the coalition forces in Afghanistan. Around 100 personnel are expected to be deployed.

“Leading a PRT is another significant addition to New Zealand’s contribution to the fight against terrorism,” Mark Burton said.

“New Zealand has been continuously involved since late 2001 in the campaign against the terrorist groups which have launched attacks in different parts of the world.

“Our special forces assisted in Afghanistan for a full year. The Royal New Zealand Navy has just completed six months interdiction work in the Gulf region. An Orion surveillance aircraft has been deployed to support the interdiction work, and a C130 Hercules transport aircraft also recently deployed to Kyrgyzstan to support coalition activities in Afghanistan.

"The PRT will now be a direct contribution to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The provisional government is working with a number of countries to establish security and rebuild Afghan society. A significant part of this effort will be through the deployment of PRTs.

"A PRT is not a combat unit. Rather, its task is to assist the transitional government under President Karzai to expand its influence outside Kabul.

" PRTs provide a strengthened military observer capacity, monitoring and assessing civil, political, and military reform efforts through community engagement. In addition, they also act as liaisons for Non-government Organisations and other civilian organisations.

“In addition, NZDF PRT personnel will visit communities, make contact with community leaders, and gather information about what they might need in terms of reconstruction. These visits will also give Bamian communities an opportunity to air any concerns.

“The NZDF is ideally suited to this role. Our people have already proved themselves adept at working in such diverse situations as the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Bougainville, and Timor Leste.”

The United States has already established three PRTs, and the NZDF will be taking over the command of one. The British are currently establishing a fourth, with plans for four more to be established by September 2003.

Mark Burton stressed that the PRT personnel will face some challenges during their deployment.

“An NZDF reconnaissance team visited Afghanistan in June and reported back on how best New Zealand could make a worthwhile contribution. This mission is not without risk, as there are still security concerns throughout Afghanistan.

“The New Zealand PRT will include a small number of infantry soldiers for protection, and all military personnel will carry personal weapons for self defence.

“Bamian is about 200 km north-west of Kabul and is at about 8,500 feet above sea level. It will be a challenging environment for our PRT personnel, but I have every confidence in their ability to successfully undertake this demanding task. I know they will acquit themselves with the same high level of professionalism the NZDF has shown through the many deployments they have been engaged in over the years.”

Questions and Answers about the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team

What is a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT)?

PRTs consist of relatively small teams (50-100 personnel) which are tasked with assisting the Afghan Transitional Authority extend its influence beyond Kabul through confidence building measures. Their focus is on enhancing the security environment and promoting the reconstruction effort. PRTs provide a strengthened military observer capacity, monitoring and assessing civil, political, and military reform efforts through community engagement. In addition, they also act as liaisons for Non-government Organisations and other civilian organisations.

PRTs are deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. They are not, however, combat units.

What sorts of tasks will the PRT undertake?

The PRT’s tasks will carried out by four liaison teams, one for each of the four regions within the Bamyan province. Each team will include officers, a medic, linguists, and a protective element. The team will carry out Civil Affairs patrols, which involve travel to different communities around the province. The NZDF's goal is to visit every community in the province.

NZ PRT will also provide the opportunity for representatives of the Afghan transitional government, the police, the Afghan National Army, NGOs, and other relevant organisations to accompany the patrols. In these situations, the liaison teams will visit communities, make contact with community leaders, and gather information about what they might need in terms of reconstruction. This also offers the Bamian communities an opportunity to air any concerns

We will also be represented on the PRT Policy Group by our Ambassador to Tehran. The Policy Group advises the Civil Military Operations Task Force on policy and priority for work undertaken by the PRTs.

How many people in our PRT?

Around 100 personnel.

Will the same staff remain in Bamian for the full twelve months?

The majority of PRT personnel will be rotated at 4-6 months.

Why lead a PRT?

A joint NZDF/Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reconnaissance team visited Afghanistan to assess the practicability of New Zealand participating in or leading a PRT. The team had extensive consultations with our coalition partners, including the Afghan Transitional Authority, and a site visit to the Bamian PRT. It then concluded that leadership of a PRT was within New Zealand’s capabilities, and could make a substantive contribution to Afghan reconstruction. The offer to lead a PRT was very warmly received, both as a solid contribution to regional security and the fight against terrorism

Who else is participating?

The United States has established three PRTs in Bamian, Gardez and Konduz. The British are in the process of establishing a fourth in Mazar-e-Sharif. A further four are to be established by September 2003. New Zealand will assume the leadership of the Bamian PRT from the US.

The New Zealand PRT is the only PRT in the Bamian area.

Do we have adequate equipment and vehicles for this deployment?

There will need to be some minor construction at the Bamian base. The New Zealand PRT will use their own communication equipment and a mix of leased and borrowed commercial 4WD and Hummer vehicles. The US will leave all major equipment at Bamian for use by the New Zealand PRT.

Where is the Bamian PRT?

Situated in Bamyan Province, the Bamian PRT is 200 kilometres west of Bagram Air Force Base, at an altitude of 8,500 feet. The site overlooks the great Buddha statues destroyed by the Taleban in 2001.

When was the Bamian PRT established?

The Bamian PRT was established by the US in January 2003.

How much will it cost?

The total approximate cost to New Zealand of the PRT deployment in Afghanistan for 12 months is $NZ 26 million.

How will the PRT be staffed?

The NZDF can sustain a PRT of around 100 personnel, drawn from each of the three services, and including both servicemen and women. There may also be scope for Territorial Force involvement. Once the New Zealand PRT is up and running, consideration may also be given to the possible inclusion of civilian staff.

What experience does the NZDF have in this type of operation?

The government has the greatest confidence in our military personnel, including their ability to undertake civil-military duties. In previous deployments – including in environments as diverse as East Timor, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Bosnia and the Middle East – New Zealanders have been respected for their professionalism and their ability to engage and relate to the local people. This type of task is indicative of the wide-ranging, and increasingly complex nature of modern peacekeeping operations.

What Non-government Organisations (NGOs) are operating in Bamian?

There are 14 NGOs in Bamian, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

What is the security situation?

Afghanistan remains a difficult environment. There are risks to our personnel (including environmental risks) and it will obviously be necessary for them to be able to protect themselves. Bamian is, however, one of Afghanistan’s more benign regions. It compares favourably with the situation in Kabul, where we also have defence personnel.

Are our soldiers at risk from Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions?

All personnel being deployed into areas where DU may have been used are briefed on any potential risks that may be posed by DU. The NZDF will continue to provide medical checks and support to any personnel who think they may have been exposed.

What are the priorities?

Bamian residents rate the provision of schools and electricity as their top priorities. Our role will be to facilitate an environment that allows NGOs to deliver such services. The local population support this deployment, as they strongly agree with these priorities.

How will the PRT be supplied?

The US-led Coalition headquarters have undertaken to provide the New Zealand PRT with logistic support. Defence is currently working through the details. In addition, a National Support Element of up to three staff officers will be attached to Coalition headquarters to respond to the New Zealand PRT’s specific logistic and administrative requirements.

Will our C130 be operating in support of our PRT?

Not directly. However, as the C130 was offered to the coalition as a whole, it may provide some support in that context.

Who will command the New Zealand PRT?

As with all deployments, the Chief of Defence Force will maintain full command of the New Zealand PRT, with operational command of deployed NZDF personnel the responsibility of the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand. The Commander will appoint a Senior National Officer (SNO) to perform a similar function for the New Zealand PRT.

Deployed personnel will only be employed in those locations and on those specific tasks and duties that have been agreed between the government and the international coalition. The SNO would be authorised to withhold the services of NZDF personnel if any task or proposed action is considered outside the scope of the PRT mandate, compromises New Zealand’s national position, or may adversely affect New Zealand’s national interests.