Labour leader Andrew Little has ended a secret trip to Iraq where he says he wanted to see first hand the work of Kiwi troops.
The invitation to visit troops at Iraq’s Camp Taji was issued by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, after Labour opposed the deployment.
Little’s trip was not announced till after he and Brownlee returned to Dubai on Thursday.
Little says he accepted the invitation to go because it was important to see for himself the work Kiwi troops were doing and the conditions they were working under.
The Opposition leader also met Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled Al-Obedih and senior military officials from the Coalition forces in Iraq.
Good of the Government to invite Little to go, and good that he attended. In the unlikely possibility he becomes PM, he will have to decide on future deployments.
“Labour opposed the deployment because the Iraqi Army’s track record was poor, even after years of training by American and other armies.
“The situation in Iraq, as well as Syria, remains hugely challenging and it is not yet certain how the Iraqi security forces will address issues of motivation and discipline, and continuing ethno-sectarian divisions across the whole army.
“It’s obvious the needs Iraq has won’t be met in the two year period the Government set for the mission. The Government must now be open with the public about the demands being made of it and its plans.”
Labour opposed the deployment, but their reason for doing so has been proven invalid. The Iraqi Army is now winning battles and the training has been cited as a major factor.
Brownlee, who was on his second visit to Taji, said the Kiwi taskforce had trained more than 4000 Iraqi troops since being deployed alongside Australian troops in 2015.
National MP Mark Mitchell also accompanied the group.
“I thought it was important to offer the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity to see Task Group Taji in action for himself, and for Mr Mitchell, as the relevant select committee chair, to have first-hand experience of the mission.”
Task group Taji provides a range of training to the Iraqi Security Forces.
“This training includes basic weapons handling, counter IED, combat first aid, obstacle breaching techniques, planning for combat operations, the laws of armed conflict and human rights.
“It was pleasing to hear from senior Iraqi commanders that Task Group Taji-trained troops have on a number of occasions captured and held towns and territory from D’aesh using their newly attained skills.”These commanders speak highly of the training and intend to cycle units back through Taji for further training when possible.”
Over the last year Islamic State has lost significant territory.
Little will now visit the Zaatari Refugee Camp, where 80,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria are now based.
“New Zealand has had a history of supporting humanitarian causes. We believe the Government must double the refugee quota and that we should be stepping up support for the people who are suffering in these camps,” Andrew Little said.
Labour often says we should treat causes, not symptoms. The misery of the refugees is being caused by Islamic State. If Islamic State is not defeated, the number of refugees will continue to increase massively. So why does Labour say NZ should help refugees, yet opposes doing anything to reduce the number of refugees?