New Zealand's options for assisting the US led coalition against Islamic State range from simply continuing our humanitarian support to the "pointy end of things" - a deployment of our elite SAS troops.

But if Prime Minister John Key's Government chooses to send the SAS to Iraq, the public can expect to hear little about their activities, says Robert Ayson, professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University.

Professor Ayson said an SAS deployment would be "the closest we would come to a combat role but how you define that is open to interpretation".

Watch: SAS could join Isis fight on ground

Prime Minister John Key won't rule out sending New Zealand's elite SAS personnel to assist US efforts to counter Islamic State (Isis) militants in Iraq or even Syria but says that would be done reluctantly as a last resort, if at all.

Coalition special forces including the SAS could advise Iraqi forces in terms of preparing forces, and information on the location of Isis for use in air strikes.

But Professor Ayson said the US itself was "still having a debate about how far they want their special forces to go in that direction".

"I've seen some coverage which suggests that at the moment not quite so much of that close air support role is being provided."

Should the SAS be deployed, the public was not likely hear about its activities to the same extent as during its time in Afghanistan.

"Given the type of adversary that Isis is the Government will be extraordinarily cautious about this. If they have an intention in the future of deploying they will give as little away on that as they could for security reasons."

However like Afghanistan, New Zealand could send military staff to assist in logistics and intelligence roles in the coalition's headquarters, but that was where the similarities would likely end.

"This is not a Provincial Reconstruction Team situation, it's not a peacekeeping situation, this is actually about a contribution to a military effort against Isis and so it's basically what can be used to contribute to that and to perhaps deal with some of the implications of what is happening there in the humanitarian sense."

Sliding stance

Prime Minister John Key on whether New Zealand could join the fight against Islamic State:


June 18:

Asked if he could rule out the SAS going to Iraq in a training role or Kiwi troops going in non-combat roles: "I would say yes".

September 11:

Asked if the US was likely to seek NZ assistance: "I'd be very surprised. They don't want any resources. They don't want any - they've got an incredible military capability and they'll deal with it."

September 29:

Asked about sending military support to Iraq after NZ was named as a member of the 60 strong coalition supporting the US against Islamic State: "I can't rule out that there won't be because what you can see around the world is countries being asked to give support."