Minister says SAS role must continue

Afghanistan mission must go on, says Minister

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has paid tribute to Lance-Corporal Leon Smith, the SAS trooper killed in Afghanistan yesterday.

“Lance-Corporal Smith was a brave and courageous soldier who served his country to his utmost. I would ask media to respect how devastating his death is for his family, and leave them to grieve privately during this difficult time.”

Dr Mapp said the second SAS death in Afghanistan in little more than a month shows just how dangerous this mission is.

“It is an important mission, and we intend to complete the deployment.

“As the Prime Minister has said, it is critically important that New Zealand plays its part in the fight against global terrorism. New Zealanders have died as a result of terrorism, and we need to keep working with our allies to make the world a safer place.

“The reason for the initial deployment in Afghanistan was to ensure Al Qaeda would not have safe haven in Afghanistan. After September 11 the Taleban government specifically said they would continue to provide safe haven to Al Qaeda, even though United Nations resolutions required them not to do so.

“The Taleban are still trying to overthrow the Afghan government by force. That is why the 49 nations of NATO/ISAF are there, to enable the elected government of Afghanistan to sustain itself. In doing so we protect New Zealanders from the risk of international terrorism.

“Our deployment in Afghanistan consists of both the SAS and the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Both face dangerous tasks, which have resulted in fatal casualties. The PRT is working to ensure the Bamyan provincial government can take over full governance and security responsibility.

“The SAS is partnered with and mentors the Afghan National Police Crisis Response Unit (CRU). As has been evident over the last two years, this means the SAS are deployed on operations in support of the CRU. They closely guide the CRU during these operations to help it build its capability.

“Each deployment and each individual mission is dangerous. Every one of our soldiers in Afghanistan knows this, and they continue to serve with great bravery and courage.”

Dr Mapp said he paid tribute to Lance Corporal Leon Smith extended his aroha and condolences to his family and to the wider defence family.