18 Sep 2015

Defence forces committed to Iraq mission

5:47 pm on 18 September 2015

New Zealand and Australian Defence Ministers have reaffirmed their commitment to the joint deployment in Iraq, just days after a new prime minister was installed across the Tasman.

A New Zealand Defence Force trainer instructs ISF soldiers in correct weapons firing positions. Iraq - 2015

An NZDF trainer instructs ISF soldiers in correct weapons firing positions. Photo: New Zealand Defence Force

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has hosted his Australian counterpart Kevin Andrews in Auckland.

Although both ministers noted the centenary year of the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli, Mr Andrews acknowledged the current joint training mission in Iraq was top of the agenda.

"We are still operating together in various parts of the world, most notably at the Taji base in Iraq where we are doing our bit to train the Iraqi regular forces in their battle against the evil of Daesh there."

He also gave the rationale for scaling back the presence of Australian special forces in Baghdad, from 170 troops to about 80.

"Firstly, that we've now got the regular forces training the Iraqi regular forces at Taji, and so that was an additional commitment of about 400 between Australia and New Zealand.

"And secondly our special forces have been on a very high tempo of operations for over a decade now and so we want to make sure we're in a position that we don't effectively wear them out."

Mr Andrews also discussed details about Australian airstrikes in northern Iraq and, more recently eastern Syria.

"Of the first three missions we had success in releasing weapons on one of those missions which successfully destroyed a Daesh armoured personnel carrier...we can all be assured that if you're in that vehicle, it was destroyed."

Mr Andrews said however, Australia has no intention of putting troops on the ground in Syria, to help direct those airstrikes.

While Australia has the permission of Iraq to operate in that country, he says the principle of collective self defence justifies the missions into Syria.

Gerry Brownlee would not be drawn on New Zealand's view of the airstrikes.

"We don't take a position to either support or otherwise, but insomuch as we are inside a coalition that is trying to defeat Daesh, our commitment is partnership training. Of course if that makes the life easier for the recruits, not life easier, but if it makes the task of removing Daesh a little more straightforward for some of the recruits who are coming out of that training, then obviously it's useful."

About 1600 Iraqi soldiers have been trained by the joint mission at Taji Camp, with another group of 700 starting shortly, he said.

The contingent that has been trained has returned to their original units and the soldiers have been involved in operations against ISIS, particularly in the Anbar province.

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