Government approves NZDF training mission to Iraq

  • Gerry Brownlee

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the New Zealand Defence Force will deploy a non-combat training mission to Iraq to build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to combat ISIL.

This is likely to be a joint mission with the Australian Defence Force.

“Up to 143 NZDF personnel have been approved by Cabinet to deploy on a training mission, with the main body likely to deploy in May,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Up to 106 personnel will be based at the Taji Military Complex 30 km north of Baghdad, a number of staff officers will be at Coalition Headquarters in Baghdad, and additional personnel will be at coalition bases in the region.

“As well as the up to 143-strong force, other personnel and Air Force assets will occasionally need to be deployed to the region to support the mission – for example in support of personnel rotations and resupply.

“A training mission like this is not without danger,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Force protection is required to support the training activities, and a significant number of the up to 106 troops at Taji will be carrying out that role.

“Logistics and medical support, as well as headquarters staff, are also required.”

The decision to deploy a Building Partner Capacity mission is in response to ISIL and the significant threat it poses to international security.

Mr Brownlee says ISIL’s ability to motivate radicals and recruit foreign fighters to its ranks makes it a threat not only to stability in the Middle East, but around the globe, including New Zealand.

“The international response to defeating ISIL is significant and growing, with dozens of countries – including our closest allies – providing troops and military hardware to support a range of efforts in Iraq and Syria.

“Currently 62 countries have provided some form of assistance to the coalition tackling ISIL, or signalled they soon will.

“Our mission will be for a two-year period from the time of arrival in Iraq, with a review by Cabinet after nine months.

“The New Zealand Government will retain ultimate decision-making authority over the nature and scope of the activities of the New Zealand Defence Force personnel on the mission,” Mr Brownlee says.

Training of Iraqi security forces at Taji will cover a broad range of individual and organisational military skills, including basic weapons skills, individual and unit military skills to prepare for combat operations, as well as other skills like medical support and logistics.

Training will also be provided so Iraqi security forces can eventually assume responsibility for delivering their own training programmes.

“Significant reconnaissance has gone into providing advice on the feasibility of this mission and I am confident in the ability and professionalism of our defence forces to carry it out effectively,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Our presence in Iraq will be at the request of the Iraqi Government, and appropriate legal protections for defence personnel will be secured for any deployment.

“Those issues are being worked through by officials at the moment.”

Staff officers will begin taking up their posts in the region in March to help with preparations for the main deployment in May.  The total estimated cost of a two-year Building Partner Capacity deployment is assessed at $65 million, although some costs are yet to be finalised.