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New Zealand ponders Afghan pullout after troop deaths

New Zealand’s prime minister John Key has said Wellington is considering an early withdrawal from Afghanistan on a day three soldiers died in a bomb attack. However, Key said the country would not "cut and run."

New Zealand's prime minister John Key has said Wellington is considering an early withdrawal from Afghanistan on a day three soldiers died in a roadside bomb attack. However, Premier John Key said the country will not "cut and run."

Key said that New Zealand, which has suffered a total of 10 deaths in the Afghan conflict, was considering withdrawing its 145-member provincial reconstruction team, but said this was not linked with the deaths of the soldiers.

He said talks about a troop exit in early 2013 began before August 4 - almost a year earlier than planned - when two soldiers were killed and six wounded in a particularly bloody month for the country.

"That date, if we confirm that, which we would want to do in the next few weeks, is not something that's changed as a result of these five tragic deaths," Key told Radio New Zealand.

He stressed that the country would not leave the country without ensuring a successful handover to Afghan authorities.

"It's neither practical, nor sensible, nor right for us just to abandon and cut and run today," he said.

"That wouldn't honor those 10 deaths, it wouldn't mark the enormous amount of work that we've put into Afghanistan and it just isn't the way that New Zealand operates on the international stage."

'The ultimate price'

The three brave soldiers paid the ultimate price for their selfless work, and my thoughts are with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones," he added.

Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman said the deaths, northwest of Do Abe were "a deep shock to the nation."

"It comes as a significant blow after the other casualties our defense force suffered on August 4," he said.

The New Zealand Defense Force said the three men had been in the final vehicle in a convoy that was hit by an an improvised explosive device.

The attacks came on the first day of Eid ul-Fitr, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In a speech marking the holiday, Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned repeated insurgent attacks during Ramadan.

"The enemies of Muslims," Karzai said, "during the holy month of Ramadan treated the nation of Afghanistan cruelly: bombs, explosions in mosques, suicide attacks in mosques."

He called on the Taliban to make a statement on the attacks: "If you are not behind this, it is being done in your name. As Muslims, as Afghans, raise your voice and say that you did not do it," he said.

rc/av (AFP, Reuters, dpa)