Kiwi troops help nab Afghan Taliban leader

New Zealand troops have helped Afghan police arrest a Taliban leader responsible for roadside bombings and a recent attack on a police station.

Mullah Borhan, former governor of Bamiyan province where New Zealand’s provincial reconstruction team is based, was captured after insurgents attacked the home of a district government official in Ghandak, about 25 kilometres from the Kiwi base, on Sunday.

New Zealand Joint Forces commander Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell said the Afghan National Police defended the district governor from the attackers and then headed off after them.

“There was a bit of a chase and a small arms engagement and at that point we understand they captured at least one person, who turned out to be Mullah Borhan.

“He is one of the senior leaders in the Bamiyan area. He’s been on our radar … he’s a former governor of Bamiyan province when the Taliban were in control.”

New Zealand provincial reconstruction troops were not directly involved in the arrest but a patrol in the area provided support by setting up an outer cordon.

Air Vice-Marshal Stockwell said the police transported Mullah Borhan back to Bamiyan township, at which stage his identity was confirmed.

“It was a significant arrest, but our role was very much in the background. It was a good operation by the Afghan National Police and our understanding is he will be handed over to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior.

“It was very much a supporting role by us. It was good for the Afghan National Police and good for Bamiyan Governor Sarabi to see her security forces capture a significant local Taliban figure.

“It was also good in terms of the leadup to the August 20 elections to capture this guy who was trying to disrupt the election process.”

He believed it was the most significant arrest in the area in the six years that Kiwi troops have been stationed in Bamiyan.

Mullah Borhan was likely to have been involved in a spate of recent roadside bombings and the June attack on a police compound at Do Abe, where Kiwi troops helped drive off a night assault.

The arrest is a major coup for the local Afghan National Police, which has received a lot of assistance and training as part of the New Zealand military and aid effort.

Three New Zealand police officers, superintendents Kevin Riordan and Samasoni Malaulau and Inspector Andrew Berry who are in Bamiyan to help train local police and to work alongside the province’s police commander were also involved after the arrest, helping to collect evidence and carry out interviews.

News of the arrest comes as the Government continues its review of New Zealand military commitments to Afghanistan in support of United States and Nato-led military operations, which were sparked by the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

New Zealand has sent units with as many as 65 SAS troops on three tours of duty between 2001 and 2004 and the Government is under pressure from the US to deploy them there again.

But the provincial reconstruction team has been New Zealand’s most significant continuing commitment.

Rotations of about 140 troops have been serving in Bamiyan since 2003, mounting patrols in the relatively peaceful province and helping with aid projects.

Prime Minister John Key has said the Cabinet is likely to decide this month whether to redeploy the SAS to Afghanistan and whether to maintain the Bamiyan commitment beyond September next year.

He said he expected the review would be considered either next week or the week after.