Watkins on Iraq

Tracy Watkins writes:

John Key’s trip to Iraq asked and answered the question about whether our troops are making a difference.

It only took a day watching the Kiwi trainers and their students in action at Camp Taji in Iraq to know they are making a real difference and it is more than just a drop in the ocean. 

A first hand observation from someone who has just been there.

And they are doing it under hellish conditions that beggar belief – stranded in a desert miles from anywhere and surrounded by pockets of one of the most brutal enemies in modern time, the Islamic State.

Our soldiers there are serving hard.

They passionately believe that the six weeks they get to train up Iraqi soldiers for the fight against IS – or Daesh as they prefer to call the enemy – has and will save Iraqi lives.

Six weeks may not be long compared with the years that Kiwi recruits get on the training ground. But the soldiers who leave them will still have a better chance of defeating IS than when they came in.

Many of them are veterans of the battle field and they have lost not only fellow soldiers but friends and family to IS.

But they have been fighting with one arm behind their back, lacking equipment and experience.

Part of what the Kiwis do is demystify the enemy to Iraqi soldiers, demoralised by the slick mind games of an enemy that has mastered social media to spread chilling propaganda.

Among the myths that have taken root are that IS has millions of soldiers and snipers who can shoot them from 6km away.

Along with teaching the Iraqi troops medical skills and combat tactics like door-to-door fighting and the use of explosives, the Kiwis have been debunking the myths and boosting the confidence of their students that IS is an enemy that can be beaten.

And they are doing it in a typically Kiwi fashion that has earned them the respect of the Iraqi soldiers.

It may not be a huge contribution, but it is important to be doing our bit. Abandoning the Iraqis to the terror of the Islamic State is not a great idea.

But it is not a one way street; the Kiwis know the men they are training will be returning to the front line where the lessons they learn could literally make the difference between life and death.

You won’t hear many of them agreeing with NZ First MP Ron Mark’s description of the Iraqi soldiers as cowards.

Maybe Ron could go over and share his views in person!

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