Defence minister farewells Orion crew

Defence Minister Mark Burton today farewelled 12 crew of an airforce Orion before they left to take part in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in the Middle East.

They and 40 other airforce personnel, including an alternate aircrew and support staff, would take part in the operation, Mr Burton said.

A spokeswoman for the minister said the alternate crew and support staff had left New Zealand on Hercules aircraft separately on May 8 and May 10.

She would not confirm in which country they would be based because it was an operational matter.

The Orion will operate as part of a multinational force as part of the Maritime Interdiction Operation (MIO) in the Gulf of Oman.

It would join the HMNZS Te Mana, which is patrolling the Arabian Sea and the Gulf as part of the Canadian-led Coalition Task Group.

"The Task Group's role is to gather information and intelligence and, if necessary, identify and detain Al Qaeda and Taliban personnel," Mr Burton said in a statement.

The Orion would be used in the detection, identification, and surveillance of surface vessels, duties similar to those it did on local waters.

Mr Burton said terrorism was still a threat to international security and New Zealand need to co-operate with others globally to counter that threat.

In addressing the departing crew, he said New Zealand did not commit its young men and women to overseas military activity lightly.

"You can all take pride in knowing that your deployment is part of a commitment to stand alongside other nations who oppose those who would use cowardly acts of terror to further their own aims".

Taking part in OEF would further add to the Defence Force's international reputation.

"I am confident that we are sending world class personnel who will acquit themselves with honour and distinction, whatever the challenges," he said.

The Orion is expected to remain with the MIO until November.