Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

NZ mission to train Iraqi soldiers 'a success'

An Australian Army soldier from Task Group Taji 2's Force Protection Company provides overwatch for Australian and New Zealand soldiers at Taji Military Complex. Photo / Supplied
An Australian Army soldier from Task Group Taji 2's Force Protection Company provides overwatch for Australian and New Zealand soldiers at Taji Military Complex. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand's mission to train Iraqi soldiers at Camp Taji have been rated highly in a review which says it is achieving its goals and is likely to underspend its budget by $8 million.

Up to 143 Defence Force personnel were deployed in May 2015 to train Iraqi soldiers in partnership with up to 300 Australian Defence Force personnel in the fight against ISIS.

A review considered by the cabinet on Monday says that as of February this year, over 4000 Iraqi personnel had been trained and it was estimated that 8000 to 10,000 will have been trained by the time New Zealand's mandate ended in May 2017.

The cabinet confirmed that the two-year deployment would continue, as originally planned, to May next year.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said that so far the mission to help Iraq fight Daesh, another name for ISIS, had been successful.

"It has allowed some of New Zealand's best soldiers to impart their knowledge and high standards to Iraqi soldiers who need help to rid their country of Daesh."

Reporting indicated that after the initial nine months of the mission, known as "boiling partner capacity," the training was having "a tangible and positive impact on the ability of the Iraqi Army to take the fight to Daesh."

So far, five coalition training sites across Iraq had trained about 19,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces since November 2014.

Mr Brownlee said the Defence Force had been assessing its contribution to the mission on a monthly basis, but he would not reveal what was being measured in those assessments.

Training was provided in basic skills which included the laws of armed conflict, human rights, basic weapons handling, combat first aid, obstacle breaching techniques and planning for combat operations.

Outside of basic training, the Iraqi Government had also request that Task Group Taji also provide support to the training of junior non-commissioned officers and three courses had been completed.

The cabinet originally approved expenditure of $65.25 million for the two-year deployment but the review says that is likely to be $8 million less than estimated because the amount being charged by a third-party contractor to provide meals and accommodation had originated been quoted at $US300 day but was now being provided at $US160 a day.

The cabinet paper summarising the review says that after US Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a letter to coalitions counterparts seeking additional contributions, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherland, Italy and Denmark increase their military contributions.

Australia, which had the second largest military contribution after the United States, won't increase its contribution.

New Zealand has ruled it out, too.

The paper says that on the ground "the natural interoperability and close working relationships that exist between Australian and New Zealand personnel enables the building partner capacity mission to function effectively.

"One of the key activities in supporting this interoperability is the combined pre-deployment mission rehearsal exercise in Australia."

It was useful in allowing the contingent to prepare together and form relationships, making the transition to Taji a more seamless process.

The paper says that the establishment in July 2015 of a New Zealand embassy in Baghdad, co-located within the Australian Embassy, had further strengthened Australia - New Zealand efforts.

The review was conducted largely by Defence Force officials.

Meanwhile, Greens Defence spokesman Dr Kennedy Graham is calling on the Mr Brownlee to give an uncensored version of the report to the foreign affairs and defence select committee.

"The review is so heavily redacted we have no way of knowing if soldiers in Iraq are safe, or if the mission has been the success that the Government claims," Dr Graham said.

"Every bit of the report that appears to detail the challenges or problems facing the mission or our soldiers, has been redacted.

"New Zealanders, and the soldiers risking their lives in Iraq, have a right to a full assessment of how the mission is working, not just the highlights. At the moment the National Government is simply telling us to take their word for it."

- NZ Herald

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