14 Dec 2014

'Hundreds' of UK troops for Iraq

8:50 am on 14 December 2014

The British government is sending hundreds of soldiers to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Iraq, in a bid to step up the battle against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

British soldiers pose for a photograph along the parade ground in Baghdad's fortified "Green Zone" on 16 May, 2009.

British soldiers pose for a photograph along the parade ground in Baghdad's fortified "Green Zone" on 16 May, 2009. Photo: AFP

US President Barack Obama has already authorised the deployment of more than 3000 troops to the country and a top US commander has said allies will send about 1500 more.

The Cabinet is likely to be briefed on whether New Zealand should send soldiers to Iraq for training purposes by late next month or early February.

Australia's government is also deciding whether to send up to 400 troops to join that country's special forces contingent already helping the Baghdad government.

Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has told the Daily Telegraph that British troops in the "very low hundreds" will be sent next month.

He said, following air strikes by US-led forces, IS had changed its methods, moving away from the use of large formations in open space.

Mr Fallon said the extremists were increasingly tucked away in towns and villages.

That meant they had to be rooted out by ground troops from what he called an own-grown army, he said - not by Western groups.

Focus on training

About 50 UK troops are already training Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting IS militants in Iraq.

Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft have also been flying missions over Iraq and carrying out air strikes against IS targets since the UK approved military action on 26 September.

British aircraft had flown a "huge number" of missions "second only to the United States, five times as many as France", Mr Fallon told the Daily Telegraph.

"Our role now, apart from the air strikes, is increasingly going to be on training," he said.

"In particular, it will mean dealing with car and truck bombs and roadside devices, as well as basic infantry skills.

"We have not finalised numbers yet - obviously we have got a lot of kit back from Afghanistan that we can make available - but we are talking very low hundreds."

The UK Ministry of Defence said the move had not yet been formally approved, the BBC reported.

A ministry spokesperson said: "No decision on troop numbers, units or locations have yet been made."

Large swathes of Syria and Iraq are currently under the control of IS extremists and pressure to provide more support to new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has been growing.

British forces were pulled out of Iraq in 2011, eight years after the mission that brought down Saddam Hussein.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs