22 Dec 2015

Labour may support sending SAS to Iraq

8:52 am on 22 December 2015

The Labour Party is denying it has done a policy u-turn after saying it may support the sending of Special Air Service (SAS) troops to Iraq.

Labour leader Andrew Little met Pentagon officials during a visit to Washington last week and later said the party would back a deployment of SAS troops in a combat role, but only in limited circumstances.

Earlier this year Mr Little opposed the deployment of New Zealand military trainers to Iraq.

Labour defence spokesman Phil Goff said the party stood by that, as trainers were likely to be ineffectual.

But he said New Zealand had a role to play in the world and would consider backing the government committing troops if certain preconditions were met.

"None of these decisions are made yet. We're not saying they should go. We are saying there could be a role for New Zealand to play depending on whether the pre-conditions are met," he said.

"If the pre-conditions are met, we would consider support but we have warned the government that rushing into that decision, given the history of failed interventions in the region, should not be the way to proceed."

Labour's pre-conditions for support included achievable outcomes and an acceptable level of risk.

But Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Labour policy was divorced from reality.

Mr Brownlee said he did not see New Zealand's SAS being involved in any combat role, and the Iraqi government did not want it to be.

"I don't see the SAS being involved in Iraq. The other point is that the Iraqi government do not want that," he said.

"If New Zealand came under a more direct threat then I think people would want us to do a little bit more but, at the moment, we think what we're doing is about right."

Mr Brownlee said a clearer plan was needed to combat Islamic State.