Iraq deployment ‘in low hundreds’

Published: Saturday 13th December 2014 by The News Editor

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An additional deployment of British troops numbering “in the low hundreds” will be sent to Iraq next month to train local forces battling Islamic State (IS) militants, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has announced.

Mr Fallon said details of the contribution to an international mission were still being finalised but would probably include a small protection contingent of combat-ready British soldiers at four US-led “safe” centres.

The move represents a significant swelling of the 50-strong British force presently engaged in preparing Iraqi and Kurdish fighters for a new phase of the fight to retake swathes of territory seized by the jihadis.

RAF planes have been heavily involved for several months in air strikes and reconnaissance missions across Iraq which have forced IS fighters to switch tactics and lay low in towns and villages – requiring a ground offensive, Mr Fallon told the Telegraph.

But with international allies unwilling to countenance a return to “boots on the ground”, the focus is on ensuring local forces are sufficiently trained and equipped to mount an effective offensive against the extremists – also known as Isil.

A big element of the UK contribution will be passing on the experience gained during the 13-year war with the Taliban in Afghanistan in dealing with roadside bombs and other explosive devices, Mr Fallon suggested.

“Our role now, apart from the air strikes, is increasingly going to be on training,” he told the newspaper.

“In particular, it will mean dealing with car and truck bombs and roadside devices, as well as basic infantry skills.

“We have not finalised numbers yet – obviously we have got a lot of kit back from Afghanistan that we can make available – but we are talking very low hundreds.”

IS fighters were “increasingly tucked away in towns and villages” as a result of the air strikes, he said.

“That means they have got to be rooted out by ground troops. This has to be done by an own-grown army, not by western groups.”

He stressed that the training centres – one in Kurdistan and three near the Iraqi capital Baghdad – were ” not where the fighting is”.

“They are in safe areas but obviously there’s always a small element of force protection.”

IS controls large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria where they are waging war with the aim of establishing an Islamic caliphate.

Britain joined air strikes in September and has flown a “huge number”, Mr Fallon said – “second only to the United States, five times as many as France”.

Published: Saturday 13th December 2014 by The News Editor

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