25 Feb 2015

'Time to stand up and be counted'

12:58 pm on 25 February 2015

The Government has a responsibility to keep New Zealanders safe, Prime Minister John Key says, and he is attempting to do that with the deployment of non-combat troops to Iraq.

Mr Key confirmed yesterday that 143 soldiers would be sent to Iraq, to train the local security forces in the fight against Islamic State.

He told Morning Report that if the government did not send troops it was exposing New Zealanders to people who return from fighting with IS and have a death wish.

"They are directly reaching out to a group of disillusioned, disaffected disengaged young New Zealanders and they are encouraging them to take domestic terrorist acts."

The first officers will leave for Baghdad next month, with the main deployment beginning in May.

106 defence personnel will be sent to the Taji Military camp north of Baghdad and 37 others, such as staff officers, will go to coalition headquarters and support facilities in the region.

Though defending the deployment, Mr Key said would not help resolve the region's longstanding and historic problems.

"I see the military part of this actually a very small part of it. It's really just giving the Iraqi Government some forces that hopefully can stand up to the sort of on-surge of behaviour that we see from ISIL and try and at least weaken them," he told Nine to Noon.

Labour Party leader, Andrew Little, said hoping was not good enough.

"This illustrates actually that this mission is pretty reckless. You don't send soldiers to train an army that has the appalling track record that the Iraqi army does and hope that it might make a difference and that's why this deployment is a bad idea," Mr Little said.

'Nebulous' enemy

Syrian analyst Hassan Hassan said the military trainers should be aware Islamic State fighters could be anywhere, even embedded in communities resistant to the movement.

Mr Hassan, of the Delma Institute research center in Abu Dhabi, said the challenge would be identifying the enemy.

"You fight it on the ground, ISIS (Islamic State) can disappear in one area but it shows up in sleeper cells.

"The nebulous nature of ISIS makes it very hard to combat in terms of propoganda or defeating it on the ground."

Hassan Hassan says the militant group was constantly changing its strategy between operating as an army, a terrorist group and an insurgency.

PM raises past deployments

The Prime Minister's announcement was greeted with a storm of criticism in Parliament yesterday from opponents and allies of the National Party alike, who sought a Parliamentary vote on the matter.

Mr Key vented his frustration in the House.

"I will not, will not, stand by while Jordanian pilots are burnt to death, when kids execute soldiers, when people are out there being beheaded.

"I'm sorry but this is the time to stand up and be counted. Get some guts and join the right side."

During question time Mr Key again made clear his feelings that he was not happy that Labour in particular was not supporting the Government's decision.

"I suspect it was the same situation when Helen Clark decided to send the SAS in a combat role to Afghanistan.

"As is so often is the case, what we see from Labour is they do one thing in Government and say one thing in opposition."

Tim Keating (right) John Key (left).

Prime Minister John Key (left) with Chief of Defence Force Tim Keating. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Key reiterated the executive had the authority to deploy defence force personnel. He said that was why Helen Clark chose to send SAS forces in a combat role to Afghanistan without a Parliamentary vote.

Phil Goff at the select committee considering new anti-terrorism legislation.

Phil Goff at the select committee considering new anti-terrorism legislation. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

A defence minister under Helen Clark, senior Labour MP, Phil Goff, rose to his feet to dispute those assertions.

"Given the importance of a Government's decision to put soldiers in harms way, shouldn't a deployment be put to the vote in this house in the same that it was in 2001 when Labour deployed the SAS into Afghanistan and this house passed by 105 votes to 7 a resolution supporting the New Zealand deployment to Afghanistan? Contrary to the inaccurate and misleading assertions by John Key."

Mr Goff asked Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee if it was true that only 16 of the 143 personnel being sent to Iraq were actually trainers.

Mr Brownlee said it was ridiculous for the member to be making a big deal about force protection.

"And then start getting outraged because we've got force protection that he thinks is too much. What is it Mr Goff - are we protecting them or not?."

The two-year deployment would cost taxpayers $65 million - a fraction of the $25 billion that the United States has spent over the past ten years training that same army.

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