19 Aug 2008

New Tongan military contingent bound for Iraq for six-month deployment

3:25 pm on 19 August 2008

The fourth contingent of Tongan soldiers is on its way to Iraq.

The 55 strong contingent is made up of volunteers and will be in Iraq for the next six months.

Tonga is the only independent nation in the South Pacific to have troops in Iraq and is one of a dwindling number of nations internationally contributing to the American-led Operation Iraqi Freedom.

However, the US Army recruits soldiers from American Samoa and other US affiliated territories in the region.

And large numbers of Fijians are serving in the British forces and working for military contractors in Iraq.

Lieutenant Colonel Aleamotua says to date the Tongan forces have sustained no fatalities or serious injuries.

He says the Tongan Defence Force has no difficulty convincing its members to go to Iraq.

"We don't run short of volunteers. Everyone is quite keen to deploy. Yes we're a volunteer force and we volunteer to deploy."

Lieutenant Colonel Aleamotua says the third contingent will be back in Tonga by the beginning of next month.