New Zealand announced on Wednesday it will pull its last six troops out of Afghanistan by May, so becoming the first government to confirm a withdrawal since peace talks began amid rising violence.
Wellington has contributed more than 3,500 defence and other personnel to Afghanistan since 2001, with 10 New Zealanders killed.
Three of the remaining soldiers are deployed to the Afghanistan National Army Officer Academy and three to the Nato Resolute Support Mission Headquarters.
“After 20 years of a presence in Afghanistan, it is now time to conclude our deployment,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement.
Despite New Zealand’s small presence, analysts say the announcement is an important symbolic milestone.
The US signed a troop-withdrawal deal in Doha last year with the Taliban that called for a reduction in violence by all sides. Peace talks have largely stalled in recent weeks.
“It’s significant that the first Nato partner since the Doha deal was done has now said it’s leaving,” said an official in Washington, adding it was a “small propaganda victory” for the insurgent Taliban.
New Zealand is considered a close partner of the Nato alliance and an official told Reuters they welcomed the “the long-standing valuable contributions” made by New Zealand.
Nato defence ministers this week are taking part in a virtual conference that will discuss what their plans are for Afghanistan as violence escalates.
Sources told Reuters last month that foreign troops plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline envisaged by the Doha troop-withdrawal agreement. A final decision is not expected until Washington completes a review of its plans.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that he welcomed New Zealand’s imminent departure, saying, “We urge all countries that have exhausted their troops in a long and unwinnable war in Afghanistan to take similar steps.”