New Zealand has no plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan

New Zealand has no plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan and wants assurances from NATO that its soldiers will receive support once the Atlantic alliance assumes joint force command, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said last week while in Busan, Korea, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that New Zealand's military deployment to Afghanistan may be extended, and the government could consider increasing troop levels.

Clark dismissed that Monday.

"I can assure you, Cabinet has no plans to commit more troops to Afghanistan," she said _ adding that for a small country, New Zealand "has made an incredible commitment to Afghanistan."

New Zealand currently has 50 elite commando troops fighting insurgents in Afghanistan. Another 120 troops are involved in a reconstruction project in Bamiyan province, which is scheduled to end next September.

NATO takes over joint forces command from the U.S.-led coalition in the troubled Central Asian nation next year.

Clark said transferring the current command of troops to NATO would not be an issue "if we got satisfactory assurances of backup."

She said troops operating in remote areas of Bamiyan needed support "to know the helicopters are coming" if they are attacked or need medical evacuation.

New Zealand has not agreed to the transfer of the provincial reconstruction team to NATO, she said, and will only do so if "satisfactory backup" was assured by NATO commanders.

Britain's The Guardian newspaper earlier reported the United States plans to pull 4,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan early next year, and Britain has been trying to put together a coalition to fill the gap in advance of a NATO meeting in Brussels on Dec. 7. I.L.

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