27 May 2015

Debate continues over NZ troops in Iraq

4:19 pm on 27 May 2015

The Government should bring New Zealand troops home from Iraq, New Zealand First says.

A New Zealand Defence Force protection soldier observes ISF troops. Iraq 2015

An NZDF protection soldier observes ISF troops during training in Iraq. Photo: New Zealand Defence Force

Its defence spokesperson, Ron Mark, said if Iraq did not have the will to defend itself, it was not worth a single New Zealander's life to try to train its soldiers.

Islamic State (IS) has captured Ramadi, an hour's drive from the base where the troops are stationed, and there has been high-level criticism that Iraqi forces do not have the will to fight IS.

Mr Mark told Morning Report he was not alone in his feelings about the Iraqis, citing similar criticism by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and a British military leader.

"All of them have expressed the same concern and the same observation that the Iraqis in Ramadi showed a lack of will to fight, a lack of will to engage, and in fact the comment was they weren't driven out of Ramadi, they drove out."

NZ First MP, Ron Mark.

NZ First MP, Ron Mark. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Australian Defence Association executive director and former army officer Neil James said Mr Mark made some good points.

But, he said, some of the media reporting in New Zealand had been irresponsible.

"The last thing we want to do is give them the idea that attacking the New Zealanders and the Australians might make us come home," he said.

"Any discussion of the commitment in Iraq has to be done reasonably responsibly."

NZ troops secure in Camp Taji - Brownlee

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated this morning that New Zealand troops in Iraq were still safe, despite the advance of IS forces to Ramadi.

Mr Brownlee told Morning Report his advice was they were well-protected at the base.

"When you say it's an hour's drive, that's a long way to move a front when you're moving towards a very, very well-organised, well-defended position," he said.

National MP, Gerry Brownlee.

Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"So I don't think the security arrangements around Taji have changed significantly as a result of the Ramadi fall."

Mr Brownlee declined to comment on Mr Carter's remarks that Iraqi soldiers have lost the will to fight.

Meanwhile, Iraq has launched an operation to drive IS out of the province of Anbar, including Ramadi.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the BBC that Ramadi might be recaptured "within days".

Mr Abadi also defended the decision of the 1500 soldiers that had reportedly been stationed in the city to flee in the face of an assault by as few as 150 militants.

He said the soldiers were fazed by shock tactics but did not lack the will to fight.

"They have the will to fight but when they are faced with an onslaught by [IS] from nowhere... with armoured trucks packed with explosives, the effect of them [being blown up] is like a small nuclear bomb - it gives a very, very bad effect on our forces."

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