21 May 2015

NZ troops at risk of attack, says Goff

12:30 pm on 21 May 2015

New Zealand troops in Iraq will soon be directly in the firing line of fighting against Islamic State (IS), the Labour Party says.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded by Aamaq news agency allegedly showing IS fighters in Ramadi.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded to YouTube on 18 May allegedly shows IS fighters in Ramadi. Photo: AFP

As IS fighters consolidate their hold on the city of Ramadi, Prime Minister John Key has said New Zealand soldiers helping train Iraqi troops will not be withdrawn even if IS reaches Baghdad.

Phil Goff

Phil Goff Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The New Zealanders are based at Camp Taji, about 30 kilometres from Baghdad and an hour's drive from Ramadi.

"Like everything in life, one always assesses the risks that are there but we are confident that the facility that our troops are in is a secure one - as secure as it can be in what is a volatile, difficult country and situation," Mr Key said.

"I can't tell you that it's a particular trigger point but what I can tell you is I'm confident that our guys are in the safest place they can be within Iraq."

Labour's defence spokesperson Phil Goff told Morning Report the soldiers were now at high risk of attack.

"They were sent there for a non-combat role but soon they'll be entrenched in a direct firefight and attack," he said.

"We're putting out people at risk with no benefit to the outcome of what's happening there."

Mr Goff said New Zealand's military presence in Iraq would not help to resolve the conflict.

NZ Army soldiers carry out patrols at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California last year as part of exercise Dawn Blitz.

NZ Army soldiers carry out patrols at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California in 2013 as part of Exercise Dawn Blitz. Photo: NZ DEFENCE FORCE / US Marine Corps

Timing of promised counterattack uncertain

American officials have said US-led coalition air strikes are targeting IS fighters in Ramadi.

There is, however, no indication that a promised counterattack on Ramadi is imminent.

Government forces backed by Shi'ite militias have been [http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/world/274096/is-fighters-prepare-to-defend-ramadi building up at a base near the city as they prepare to retake the city, which is the capital of Iraq's western Sunni-majority province of Anbar.

The IS fighters have taken over tanks and artillery and large amounts of ammunition abandoned by fleeing Iraqi forces.

The Iraqi government said its troops had fought off an overnight attack by IS fighters near Ramadi.

Meanwhile, in Syria, IS fighters have taken near complete control of the city of Palmyra, home to some of the world's most magnificent ancient ruins, speaking fears for the ruins' destruction.

- RNZ / REUTERS

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