United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants New Zealand to send the SAS back to Afghanistan to help fight the Taleban.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully said Mrs Clinton spoke about the SAS in "glowing terms" during a meeting in Washington yesterday.
"In Afghanistan, [New Zealand's] SAS troops distinguished themselves early on," said Mrs Clinton.
The United States wants more military support. Mr McCully said that while Mrs Clinton did not make a formal request, the inference could be drawn that she wanted the SAS to return.
"The fact that they mention the SAS in those terms is something that we've noted but we're not rushing into any decisions to make a further deployment," Mr McCully said.
The SAS made three deployments between late 2001 and November 2005. The six-month rotations involved between 40 and 65 soldiers.
Mr McCully said it was clear the United States wanted more military and civilian help.
New Zealand's contribution is a 140-strong provincial reconstruction team in Bamyan province which the Government recently committed for another year through to September 2010. There are a further 19 military or police personnel in mainly advisory positions.
Mrs Clinton was aware the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was conducting a review of what more New Zealand could provide, and "didn't press the matter", said Mr McCully. She was "grateful" for New Zealand's recent commitment to keep the provincial reconstruction team.
A decision on whether to send the SAS would be part of the review, which Mr McCully expected would be finished by August.
The civilian help could include police officers or people who could help improve Afghanistan's governance.
The review would also show what the impact of further commitments would be on New Zealand's resources, particularly in defence, which were stretched with work in the Solomon Islands and East Timor, he said.
Afghanistan was also due to hold elections in August, which would help indicate the help required. New Zealand could also increase the $7 million a year it pays in aid to Afghanistan.
The US wanted to do more work in neighbouring Pakistan, and New Zealand would make a financial commitment to this, said Mr McCully.
While sending the SAS back to Afghanistan would please the US, it would carry domestic political risks - particularly if a soldier was killed.
The war is deemed to be as dangerous as ever, and eight Australian soldiers have been killed, including New Zealand-born SAS member Sean McCarthy.
Green MP Keith Locke said sending the SAS back would be a mistake, and would create more destruction rather than helping solve the problems.
Click to view image: 'NZDFSAS'
In: Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: Afghanistan, NZDF SAS, ISAF, New Zealand, US
Location: Washington, District of Columbia, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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