New Zealand sending commandos to Afghanistan WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand has agreed to a U.S. request to send commando troops back to Afghanistan in the next 18 months, but will gradually withdraw regular forces from the war-torn country, the prime minister announced Monday. The United States has repeatedly asked New Zealand to raise its troop levels in recent months and specifically asked for its elite strategic air service commandos to return. The commandos were deployed to assist U.S. forces oust the Taliban regime following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and they returned for tours of duty in 2003 and 2006. On their fourth deployment, units of about 70 special air service troops will spend six months at a time in Afghanistan as part of the international effort to try to stabilize "a very unstable place," Prime Minister John Key told reporters. "We're deploying our elite military there to try and stabilize the position," he said, adding they would be sent shortly, without giving a timeframe. Key also announced that 140 troops in New Zealand's 140-strong provincial reconstruction team will "gradually be drawn down" by 2014. The troops have operated in Bamiyan province northeast of the capital, Kabul, since 2003. "New Zealand has a direct and vital interest in supporting international efforts to eradicate terrorism and promote peace and stability," Key said. Civilian specialists in agriculture, health and education would be sent from New Zealand to assist development in Bamiyan, part of a strategy to put greater emphasis on development aid and less on military might. The move implemented Key's exit strategy for regular troops, who are committed to stay in Afghanistan until September 2010. Key also announced that New Zealand would open a diplomatic post in Kabul to support the effort, instead of having diplomatic representation run from Tehran as at present.