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Archive for the ‘defence’ Category

Final 5 Interpreters Make Desperate Plea

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

Last night several MPs received a letter from a group claiming to be the last five Afghan interpreters who worked with the NZDF and wish to leave Afghanistan but have not been offered any package by the Government.

If there are indeed only five more families that wish to be relocated the Government should act swiftly to grant them asylum. There is no logical justification for denying these former interpreters when all others have had a satisfactory outcome. Their situation is no different to the others.

Here’s what they had to say:

To: Honorable NZ Prime minister, Cabinet and Parliament Members
From: Five former NZDF Interpreters

Warm Greetings!

First of all, we would like to thank on our behalf the Government of the Right Honorable John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, for the resettlement offer to the interpreters (our brothers and countrymen). The decision will surely save many lives as all interpreters fear retribution from the Taliban.

Secondly, please kindly consider this letter as an application for the extension of the asylum offer to the five former NZDF interpreters who served the New Zealand Defense Force alongside the Kiwi soldiers in Bamyan Province for several years in the early days of their deployments in Afghanistan, as interpreters/translators and cultural advisers. During our assignments with NZDF soldiers, we accompanied them on numerous patrols all over the province and even outside of the province, as well as on countless meetings with key government officials, warlords/Taliban, Mullahs, village elders and other locals. As most of these meetings were held in public or in contentious areas of the province, it has exposed us as a person working for the coalition forces. We have also appeared in the Media as allies of NZDF. By the end of our time with NZDF, we were very well-known amongst the Taliban, warlords, locals and security forces for having a strong working background with NZPRT. This fame has already put our lives in danger and might end our and our families’ lives once the ISAF/NATO forces leave Afghanistan and the insurgents/ Taliban start re-gaining power.

It was our hope that peace would prevail in Afghanistan, but unfortunately security across the country has deteriorated. The insurgents are on the offensive across most parts of the country gaining control and eliminating those of us who had connections with coalition forces especially interpreters. We have become prisoners of our country and are unable to make a living freely out of fear of the murderous Taliban. As many of us went into hiding due to direct and indirect threats received from Taliban, insurgents, local warlords and corrupt government authorities threatening to kill either us or our family members. These threats were the reason for most of the NZPRT interpreters to quit their jobs or to flee to another country in order to find a safe shelter to save their lives. We, five former interpreters were/are unable to make our way to a safer place and have been seeking assistance from NZ government to resettle us and our families in New Zealand.

Based on the latest announcement from NZ Government, the initial resettlement offer (released on October 2012) was extended to six former NZDF interpreters, but only two out of six are currently living in Afghanistan and have accepted to resettle in New Zealand, the rest (four ex- interpreters) have already resettled in abroad.

Thus, we five former interpreters who are excluded from the resettlement package, humbly requesting NZ Government to consider our cases and include us in the current resettlement offer. We, five former interpreters have full records of our services with NZDF/PRT in Bamyan and have resigned our assignments prior to December 2010.

It is worth mentioning that we are thankful from Immigration Minister, Nathan Guy who stated that we can request the grant of residence under section 72 of the Immigration Act 2009, if we apply through United Nations our cases will be considered sympathetically. We would have applied through UNHCR if, it was even a bit possible for us. According to the UNHCR asylum policies one has to move to another country as a refugee to apply for the third country. If we do so, then our families will starve to death, as most of us are the sole worker at home.

As we all know, once the coalition forces leave, the security will further deteriorate.

As soon as the insurgents regain power or get strong enough would start hunting us down. We are sure they would not let us go just because we are former interpreters and no longer work with coalition forces. We will be dealt equally with current ones.

We are extremely proud of our achievements and affiliation with the New Zealand Defense Force. We hold the women and men of the NZDF in high regard for their bravery, hard work and dedication to the people of Afghanistan.

Your kind consideration for a safe and prosperous future in New Zealand is most timely for us, our families as we live in fear in Afghanistan for what the future holds. Therefore, we are humbly requesting the Government of New Zealand to extend the current asylum offer to us (the only five remained interpreters) as well, as we have been loyal and dedicated employees of NZPRT over the past years.

We are looking forward to hearing a positive response from Honorable New Zealand Government authorities in this regard.

Sincerely,
Former Interpreters of NZPRT

If there is any good reason these or any other interpreters are being denied, the Government should make that clear. If not, their continued discrimination is unjustified.

 


National’s Defence Cuts (2)

Posted by on July 8th, 2012

orioncuts


National’s Defence Cuts (1)

Posted by on July 4th, 2012

opv_cuts


Defence Force Personnel Lining Up To Leave

Posted by on March 8th, 2012

The Government’s mismanagement of the Defence portfolio has led to a mass exodus from New Zealand’s armed forces.

The fact that the Defence force is actively recruiting from the UK shows that our armed forces are losing skilled personnel as low moral and high attrition take their toll.

Money that should be used to put people on the front line is being wasted trying to replace the people lining up to leave the Defence force because the change process has been handled so poorly by the Government.

Unemployment is over 6%. It’s hard to get a job right now but things are so bad that people would rather take their chances on the job market than stay in the Defence Force. The civilianisation process has been poorly run and has had a devastating impact on morale.

Tens of thousands of new Zealanders are looking for work. We should be training and employing our own people, not spending money on bringing people in from overseas to take those jobs.

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Filed under: defence

What are the SAS doing ? And why does Key want to send them back ?

Posted by on November 2nd, 2011

On Monday night John Key made it clear that he intends sending SAS back to Afghanistan after a rotation break. Labour won’t.

Made me think about the various positions Key has held on this issue.

Is it spin or did he not understand that he was sending New Zealanders into harms way?

When Key’s Government was considering sending the SAS back to Afghanistan in July 2009, Key ruled out a role for the SAS in mentoring Afghanis because it would involve them in fighting. He said it was too dangerous.

Then in January 2010, Victoria Cross holder Willie Apiata entered the frame after being photographed in Kabul during fighting and Key goes all GI Joe talking about combat and downplaying mentoring.

After NZ soldiers lose their lives later that year and into this year, however, Key goes back to the mentoring line. He goes so far as to contradict his Minister of Defence, who admitted a substantial SAS combat role in September of this year

Timeline

28 Jul 2009

Key tells the NZ Herald that the SAS would not be doing taking part in Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLT) in Afghanistan because they would be “particularly dangerous”. [Link]
(more…)

Filed under: defence

What were the other 3 trips?

Posted by on April 24th, 2011

John Key would have us believe that his jaunts on military planes and helicopters aren’t among the ‘nice to haves’ that Bill English says we’ll all have to learn to live without, but are essential to his ability to carry out his duties as Prime Minister. If that’s the case, then he won’t have any problem issuing a full list detailing his use of airforce planes and helicopters, including the important matters of state that he was attending to that justified their use.

Stuff reported last week that Key has used the helicopter four times in the past 3 weeks alone, including the now infamous trip from the V8 supercars to the golf club. So what were the other three trips? Looking on Key’s Facebook page, the possibilities are endless. Did he use Airforce helicopters to visit the Timaru skateboard park? Perhaps he used them to make a ‘cameo appearance’ at the NZ Shearing Champs in Te Kuiti?

The PM and other Ministers should be able to use the airforce where it is necessary to carry out their official duties. But there is a pretty clear distinction between attending to official matters of state and using them to jet between photo-ops that are clearly little more than campaigning.

Every quarter Parliament and Ministerial Services issue a breakdown of spending on air travel by MPs and Ministers, but those figures don’t include the use of military aircraft. That’s an anomaly that needs to be fixed. As a general rule, I believe that use of military planes and helicopters by VIPs should be disclosed and the public should be able to judge whether the matters that they were attending to justified their use.

Meantime John Key and his Cabinet should start practicing what they preach and stop splashing taxpayer cash on photo-ops for the PM. At the last election John Key chartered a plane so that he could flit from one photo-op to the next. He should stick to that approach rather than suck military resources into his campaign machinery.


Hamid Karzai on foreign provincial reconstruction teams

Posted by on February 11th, 2011

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai lashing out against foreign provincial reconstruction teams reflects a pretty inevitable tension . PRTs are not a perfect intervention. They are not neutral or impartial and have a reputation for freqently working to their own agendas or those of the country that put them there.

I doubt that’s the case with NZ’s contribution – both our forces and aid personel – because we don’t carry too much strategic baggage and I think genuinely we want Bamiyan to get on with it themselves asap. Our work is pretty coherent and brings together the 3 ingredients of development, stability and governance.

But he is voicing his frustration of having foreign troops in his country in order to maintain stability. No Afghan – and I would imagine nobody in any country – want foreign troops on their soil. It undermines their sovereignty, the authority of their government and it makes Afghans feel they are not shaping their own destiny. For them it’s a loss face, important in proud cultures like Afghanistan.

But Karzai also realises that for all foreign troops to leave now would likely spell the return of the Taliban. Yet he also needs to reflect the frustrations and appeal to the nationalism of his people. As we would likely do in the same circumstances. His words, remind us that we need to tread sensitively and in step with what the Afghans want – and nobody else.


When the USA gets it right

Posted by on December 28th, 2010

There has been a fair bit of criticism of the USA following the release of the Wikileaks documents. Most of it deserved, and some of it I have even been part of. As I have said before on this blog, my view on the USA has changed a bit over the years. Before I lived there as a diplomat I had a pretty jaundiced view of the USA as a country. Living there made me realise that like all places it has some amazing people, places and ways of doing things and some bizarre and awful ones too. The Bush era certainly presented lots of the latter category. I still strongly oppose the war-mongering of that era and many of the actions taken in the name of the USA.

But there are times when the USA gets it right and when individuals stand up for ideals in important ways. One of those is the recent removal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy on gays in the military. This was a messy compromise from another era, which has now been rectifiied. I am certainly no supporter of all the actions of the US military, but this piece of discrimination had no place in the modern world.

Barack Obama’s speech at the signing of the legislation to remove the policy is one of his great speeches in my view.

Finally, I want to speak directly to the gay men and women currently serving in our military. For a long time your service has demanded a particular kind of sacrifice. You’ve been asked to carry the added burden of secrecy and isolation. And all the while, you’ve put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you.

You’re not the first to have carried this burden, for while today marks the end of a particular struggle that has lasted almost two decades, this is a moment more than two centuries in the making.

There will never be a full accounting of the heroism demonstrated by gay Americans in service to this country; their service has been obscured in history. It’s been lost to prejudices that have waned in our own lifetimes. But at every turn, every crossroads in our past, we know gay Americans fought just as hard, gave just as much to protect this nation and the ideals for which it stands.

The full speech is well worth a watch.


US sees sense on don’t ask, don’t tell

Posted by on December 19th, 2010

It seems unthinkable in New Zealand that gay and lesbian members of our defence force would have to hide their sexual identity in order to serve. It’s only today that the US has seen the sense in this. In this day and age it’s extraordinary.

Better late than never I guess. The US Senate voted to repeal the regressive law 65 to 31 which was a definitive vote.

Thank goodness.

Don’t ask’ is repealed in historic vote

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010 The U.S. military will for the first time in history allow gays to serve openly after the Senate voted Saturday to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that has required such troops to hide their sexual identity or risk being expelled from the services.

While opponents said repeal would create a battlefield distraction that could endanger troops, supporters drew parallels to the military’s decision to end racial segregation in the 1950s and the admission of women to military service academies in the 1970s.


Very, very good friends

Posted by on November 9th, 2010

Hilary Clinton’s visit, and the Wellington Declaration were a good marker post in the improvement of NZ/US relations. This has been developing over the last few years under both Labour and National and is, to state the obvious, a good thing. NZ and the US have far more in common than we differ on. Our relationship with the US is critical, not just because they are a global superpower but because there are great opportunities for us in the relationship.

What is interesting for me, though, in the wake of the visit is where we are heading in terms of the defence realtionship. Today’s stories indicate that the warming relationship might see us “playing war games” in the very near future. I think this is an area where we need to tread carefully, for two principal reasons.

First, we have deliberately and clearly staked out our independent stance in a post-ANZUS world. Some level of training and engagement will be beneficial but the government needs to be very clear about setting our own priorities, and where our limits and boundaries are. Are there any caveats in place to how the relationship will develop, or is it full steam ahead to a neo-ANZUS strategic relationship?

We may well continue to differ on occasion on strategic and politicial issues and we need to be able to differentiate and limit our involvement where that is appropriate. The government needs to give us some indication of how they will manage this to protect the indepdendence of our stance if, for instance, another Iraq situation comes along.

The second issue is around funding. The more we engage in a deeper defence relationship with the US the more costly that will be. Now some of that cost might be justified, but if I know some elements of our military it will be milked for all it is worth. There are a lot of other priorities, not only in terms of defence forces but also the wider Budget.

A steady improvement in our relations with the US is welcome, but in our enthusiasm for this its vital we do not try to re-create a version of the ANZUS era, the time of which has passed, and lose the strong and independent place we have carved for ourselves on the world stage.


Tongan Soldiers off to Afghanistan…

Posted by on July 28th, 2010

The link below explains the situation and at this stage I’m not going to start ranting on about what I think – but I am geninuely worried when I see things like this.

In summary – Tongan soldiers will be supporting the British in Afghanistan.  55 will begin service in November and 220 more will follow.  They will be getting paid 30 pounds a day for putting their lives at risk…

http://www.matangitonga.to/article/tonganews/defence/20100728_tonga_soldiers_afghanistan.shtml


A week is a long time in politics

Posted by on May 5th, 2010

Last week John Key was saying that the SAS would be coming home from Afghanistan at the end of March.

“I made it clear actually that the SAS are coming back at the end of March, that they need to re-group,” says Mr Key.

But a trip to Kabul and a conversation with a five four star General later, and the policy is changing. Changing so fast that neither his Foreign Minister nor his Defence Minister know anything about it.

Its easy to see why Gen McCrystal would want the SAS to stay on. He needs all the friends he can get, and especially ones as good at their jobs as the SAS. But surely this is not how New Zealand should be making a decision about sending New Zealanders into a war?

Good on John Key for going to Afghanistan to visit the Kiwis who are up there. As with Helen Clark going there, these visits are an important sign that politicians have the courage of their convictions. But making decisions about re-commitment is serious stuff. It should not be done on the hoof. It all feels a bit like someone who goes on holiday to Brisbane and decides to move there on the basis of having had a good time. Only to discover that the daily grind of living is not quite the same as being on holiday.

New Zealanders and our troops deserve better than John Key simply agreeing with the last person he talked to.


Condolences

Posted by on April 25th, 2010

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives and been injured in the crash of the RNZAF Iroquois helicopter this morning.  For those who have not seen the news the helicopter was on its way from Ohakea to participate in a fly-by at the Wellington ANZAC service this morning. Three of the four people on board have died. I have just come back from a couple of RSAs and there is a great deal of sadness over this news.  As Phil Goff has said

ANZAC Day is a day of sadness and poignancy for New Zealand and for this crash to occur today adds to this feeling,”

May they rest in peace, and may the survivor make a full and speedy recovery.

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To fight, or not

Posted by on April 25th, 2010

In our short history we have seen our fair share of battlefield carnage. Arguably it has helped make us one of the most peace-seeking of nations. The popular support for our nuclear-free policy,  our extensive peace-keeping deployments and the decision to stay out of Iraq reflects strong anti-war sentiment.

And yet throughout our history New Zealanders have always been ready to go to war when called. Modern ANZAC Day services are not anti-war. They respect the sacrifices made by our service men and women.

So what do we think of this paradox?  Historian Glyn Harper addressed it when he gave the 2010 Jack Lyon Memorial Lecture last weekend. It is an annual event hosted by the North Shore Committee of the Labour Party to commemorate Jack Lyon, a Labour MP who held the seat of Waitemata 1935-41.

Lyon personified the paradox. He was a left wing internationalist who believed he had to fight when the cause was right. At the age of 17 Lyon lied about his age so he could fight in WW1. In 1939 he did it again, this time knocking four years off his real age, so he could fight fascism.  He reached the rank of Captain, and died under German fire during the evacuation of Crete.

You can read or listen to Glyn Harper’s excellent lecture. It was a special night. Glyn read out two letters home from New Zealand soldiers in Gallipoli – letters never read in public before.  The event was attended by Sophie Tomlinson, Jack Lyon’s granddaughter. Defence Minister Hon Wayne Mapp was also there and found himself in the middle of some spirited debate about whether our SAS should currently be in Afghanistan.  It was a good warm up for ANZAC Day.  You can read more about last year’s event too.


Reflecting on ANZAC Day#3

Posted by on April 24th, 2010

I confess to a very similar journey to my colleague Grant Robertson in relation to ANZAC Day. 

The increasing resonance and inclusiveness around ANZAC Day was illustrated to me yesterday when I was out in Onehunga Mall with a box of ANZAC poppies.   A range of people reflecting the diversity of our community approached me for a poppy.  On the other side of the Mall Elaine, wearing a brooch with a picture of her brother who died in World War II, was having a similar experience.  Toddlers through to very senior citizens were proudly wearing their poppies.

When I was considerably younger I spent a wonderful week in Crete and was overwhelmed with the warm reception that my friends and I received once people found out we were New Zealanders. I heard a little about the New Zealanders who fought alongside the people of Crete when it was invaded and occupied by the Germans in 1941.  Recently I found out a little more when I read a book by Patricia Grace – ‘ Ned and Katina – a true love story’.   Eruera Rewiri Nathan/Edward David Nathan ‘Ned’ a wounded Maori Battalion soldier is sheltered by the family of Katina Toraki and they fell in love and eventually married and settled in NZ after the war.  In the course of the book I got a real sense of the courage and determination of the soldiers, who were effectively stranded on Crete after the defeat of the allies, and the many Cretans who formed the local resistance.  The tales of human kindness in extreme circumstances are very moving.

But I was particularly struck by the following quote from Ned following a pilgrimage organised on behalf of ex Maori Battalion members and their families in 1977  that visited cemeteries and former battlefields in Turkey, North Africa, Italy, England, France, Greece and the Greek Islands.  On Crete there was a service of reconciliation and forgiveness which was widely reported in Greek and German newspapers.  On his return to NZ Ned received a letter from a member of the German War Graves Commission who wanted to gain an understanding of what had motivated the commemorative event in Crete.  Ned’s reply included the following statement about what occurred at the commemoration:

“I also emphasised that this 28th Maori Battalion pilgrimage to all the Mediterranean countries wherein our fallen are interred, that this was also a pilgrimage with a mission for peace.  In my address at the ceremony at Maleme I also said; that it was shame and a curse on mankind; that they, our fallen had to die together to find peace one with the other, and this surely indicated that we the survivors, and the living, should intensify our efforts to ensure lifelong peace, and prevent another holocaust.”

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Filed under: defence, peace

A tale of two cities newspapers

Posted by on January 13th, 2010

There is not a lot of variety in the New Zealand media, given our size and the domination of a couple of key players.  But today we have an interesting divide between the NZ Herald and the Dom Post on just what is on the agenda for discussions between Hilary Clinton and Murray McCully.  Bear with me here, but it all started with the Herald’s in-depth coverage of the Clinton visit on Saturday, which included the cringe-making headline in the print edition ” They like us again”. That story tells us that military exercises between NZ and US are all set to resume and all will be revealed very soon.

The Weekend Herald understands it is likely to be announced next week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Kurt Campbell, visit New Zealand.

Now these sorts of stories do not come out of thin air and Audrey Young, the author of the article, is a highly respected journalist. The rest of the articles in the Weekend Herald extensively quote Murray McCully, so one could be forgiven for assuming him, or to quote one of my favourite journalistic euphemisms ” someone close to the Minister’s thinking” was the source.

Clare Trevett follows the story up today with an account of Mrs Clinton’s programme and informs us

High on the agenda is understood to be the United States’ review of the security relationship with New Zealand and plans to drop the US ban on military exercises with New Zealand.

However in the Dom Post today, Martin Kay has a story headlined ‘Defence ties with NZ ‘not in Clinton’s portfolio’. It tells us

Sources close to this week’s visit by American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have scotched speculation that she will announce an end to the ban on United States-New Zealand military exercises.

The article goes on to say that actually the question of military exercises is not even in the Secretary of State’s portfolio, and that a US review of our defence relationship had not yet been completed and quoted the US Embassy as saying

“The review is ongoing and no conclusions have yet been drawn.” 

Hmmm, a curious case. I can imagine the Dom Post’s editors asked its reporters how they could miss a pretty damn big story, and they went and checked with the US Embassy and discovered it was just not happening.

Now this is all quite amusing, but it does raise a couple of serious questions. First, how on earth do we get two so contradictory stories? My experience always tells me to back cock-up over conspiracy. But you do have to wonder how it is that the NZ Herald could have gained the impression that there was to be a major announcement if it was not from someone in the NZ Government? Was there an attempt to get it on the agenda by raising it through the media? or just someone getting way ahead of themeselves?  If it is either of these then it is bad politics  and poor diplomacy from the National Government.

The other thing I do know from my MFAT experience is that the US will be less than impressed that the idea that there would be an announcement on military exercises has been made public if it is not going to happen on this visit. These visits are carefully managed and likely outcomes discussed well in advance. The rivalries in the US system are also a factor, and the notion that the State Department might be stepping on the toes of Defence will go down very badly.

Anyway, it will be most interesting to see what does get discussed/announced, and which of our daily journals of record is right about this.