The United States has asked New Zealand to provide special operations troops to the coalition against Isis (Islamic State). The Government has said it will consider the request but the Prime Minister has qualified the response, stating that he does not think New Zealand will increase its contribution beyond the company-sized training complement currently deployed at Camp Taji outside Baghdad.
The PM’s caution has more to do with domestic political concerns than the practical or diplomatic necessities of the conflict. With a thin majority thanks to Winston Peter’s by-election victory in Northland, National cannot risk parliamentary defeat on the issue. But Opposition leader Andrew Little has signalled that Labour is willing to consider sending SAS troops to the fight, so the ground is clearing for authorisation of a new phase of the New Zealand mission.
They argued so vigorously against sending trainers, it is hard to see they will do a u-turn and support direct combat troops.
The problem lies with the Iraqi Army leadership. Iraqi field rank officers are not included in the training programme and are by and large unwilling or unable to demonstrate the type of leadership skills under fire that are required to make best use of the training received by their soldiers from the NZDF and its allies.
That is where special operations troops like New Zealand’s SAS are useful. Among many other roles they serve as leadership advisers on the battlefield. Because of their exceptional skills and hardened discipline, SAS teams serve as force multipliers in the field by adding tactical acumen, physical resilience and steadfastness of purpose to the fight. They lead by example.
I’m sure the NZ SAS would add value.
It will be odd if New Zealand refuses to send its most elite soldiers when asked for them by its major allies in a UN-sanctioned multi-national military coalition. Troops such as the NZSAS need regular combat experience to sharpen and maintain their skills. Since part of their specialness is versatility in a wide range of combat environments, the SAS would be keen to test its troops in the mixed urban/desert, conventional and unconventional battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
Leaving the SAS in New Zealand is akin to leaving a Bugatti in the garage. Much has been invested in their combat readiness. They are trained to fight and lead others in combat (such as during the anti-terrorist mission in Afghanistan). It would be counterproductive for them to be idling in Papakura when there is a just cause to be fought against enemies of humanity who commit atrocities and wreak misery on those they subjugate.
It is a very just cause, and indeed against enemies of humanity.