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The re-assignment of a New Zealand SAS unit to the war in Afghanistan was not unexpected. All parliamentary parties support some kind of New Zealand military involvement with the US and British forces in Afghanistan. All endorse the argument that the war in Afghanistan is a war against terrorism. The main point of difference is that Labour and the Green Party are suggesting the New Zealand should limit itself to providing "provincial reconstruction teams" in Bamiyan province.
At this stage in the war, the Labour/Green position is totally unrealistic. The "battle for hearts and minds" in Afghanistan is already lost, there is no point in trying to maintain the pretence of "provincial reconstruction".
Nor does the call for "provincial reconstruction" make domestic political sense. New Zealand governments have traditionally followed a two phase strategy to assist Britain and the United States in their imperial wars. In the first phase army engineers and medical personnel are sent to "win hearts and minds" among the enemy population, and more importantly to soften anti-war opinion within New Zealand by creating the impression that the imperial wars, or at least New Zealand involvement in those wars, have a humanitarian purpose. The second stage is the committal of infantry and artillery forces. In the Vietnam war, New Zealand military involvement proceeded through both phases in textbook fashion. In Iraq, due to the intensity of the Iraqi resistance, New Zealand never felt able to advance to the second stage combat role. In Afghanistan, after the initial SAS involvement, the Labour government reverted to the first phase "humanitarian" role, and a National government has now determined to move back into the second phase "combat" role.
The political vacillation over how New Zealand should conduct its war
in Afghanistan is as significant as the general parliamentary consensus
in favour of that war. The political classes in New Zealand
believe that they must support the war plans of the imperial powers,
as they have done since the nineteenth century. But they
also know that the imperial project faces certain defeat in central Asia,
and they do not want to incur unacceptable losses of money or personnel
in fighting for a doomed cause.