New Zealand will pull its soldiers out of Afghanistan earlier than planned, the prime minister announced, after the country lost three troops in a Taliban bomb attack on a convoy.
John Key said it was “highly likely” the country would now withdraw its 145-strong contingent in April 2013.
He said the decision to bring forward the withdrawal date had not been influenced by the attack in Bamiyan province on Sunday morning.
An increase in violence in the province where the contingent is stationed has seen the country lose five troops this month. A total of 10 New Zealand soldiers have died in Afghanistan since they began their mission in 2003.
Mr Key said New Zealand would not “cut and run”, but would withdraw “as fast as we can, and we'll do it in the way that protects our people as best we can”.
The three soldiers, including the first New Zealand woman killed in action since Vietnam, died instantly when their Humvee hit a large homemade bomb.
Their deaths followed a gun battle earlier in the month when two soldiers were killed and six wounded in the same province.
Bamiyan has been considered one of the safest areas of Afghanistan and there have even been hopes it could become a tourist destination.
This year violence has climbed as groups of insurgents from neighbouring provinces have pushed into the area to attack New Zealand and Afghan forces.
Mr Key said discussions on speeding the New Zealand withdrawal had begun before August’s attacks.
The Nato-led coalition has agreed to combat missions by the end of 2014, though a force of trainers and special forces troops will remain.
Many alliance members have found the Afghan campaign is increasingly unpopular at home and coalition commanders and diplomats have struggled to persuade them to stay the course.
France, the fifth biggest member, has accelerated its withdrawal so that all combat troops will have left by the end of this year.
New Zealand had originally sought to end its deployment in 2014.
Murray McCully, foreign affairs minister, announced in May the troops would be withdrawn in the latter part of 2013. Mr Key has now changed that to the first half of 2013.
He said: “Yes we need to make it the shortest timeframe we can now logistically, but we have to do it with our partners. If we don't, then the message we send to the rest of all of Afghanistan is that it's time to run for the exits.”
“And if we do that, then the thousands of people who have lost their lives have been in vain. And I just don't think that reflects the values and principles that underpin New Zealand.”