17 Nov 2015

Paris attacks sharpen NZ troops' focus

9:15 am on 17 November 2015

Terror attacks in Paris have sharpened the focus of those in Iraq training local security forces, the commander of all New Zealand troops serving overseas says.

Troops returning from Iraq are welcomed by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at Ohakea Air Base on 16 November 2015.

Troops returning from Iraq are welcomed by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee. Photo: Pool / Warwick Smith / Fairfax NZ

More than 100 soldiers, who were the first to be deployed to Taji Camp, near Baghdad, arrived home yesterday.

They were part of a joint training mission with Australia, as part of international efforts to combat Islamic State.

As they filed off the plane, the contingent was welcomed home by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Major General Tim Gall.

Troops returning from Iraq are welcomed by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Major-General Tim Gall at the Ohakea Air Base on 16 November 2015.

Troops returning from Iraq are welcomed by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Major-General Tim Gall. Photo: Pool / Warwick Smith / Fairfax NZ

Mr Brownlee told reporters the terror attacks in Paris highlighted how dangerous Islamic State can be.

"Well, I think the nature of those attacks tells you that this is an enemy that's much more rooted in its ideology than its particular structure.

"But what it does mean is that where you can engage with them in a military sense you need to be doing so in an effective way, that is the task that the Iraqi army, the Iraqi security forces are taking on.

"And I think the contribution that our guys are making to train those soldiers will be part of ultimately getting on top of this particular problem."

General Gall said the attacks demonstrated the practical relevance of what the New Zealanders were doing in Iraq.

"I think it probably gives them a greater sense of mission if anything.

"Sometimes it seemed a little bit remote, I suppose, to us here in New Zealand, but I'm sure that sharpened that focus a little bit."

Troops returning from Iraq are welcomed by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Major General Tim Gall, at the Ohakea Air Force Base on 16 november 2015.

Photo: Pool / Warwick Smith / Fairfax NZ

However, Mr Brownlee said the Paris attacks would not affect New Zealand's intention to restrict its deployment to two years.

"Well, I don't think that we need to shakefrom our position at the present time.

"There is obviously going to be a lot of consideration by a number of nations over the next while, as the full effect and consideration of what's happened in Paris sinks in."

One of soldiers who was working as a trainer at Camp Taji said it was great to be home.

"Looking out the window on the way and seeing the top of the South Island was pretty magical."

He said the deployment to Iraq was a unique experience.

"It was one of those types of deployments that's challenging and at the same time really fulfilling, and the results we get, or got, from the guys we trained, it's just something I'll always hold close to me."

Another soldier said it had been a long haul.

"Not only was it the six months, or seven months over there, but it was all the training that led up to that as well, which obviously that started 13 months ago, so it's a long time to be away from your family, not only just in Iraq itself, but the pre-deployment itself was very taxing."

There was one thing she was keen to do when she got home.

"Probably have a glass of champagne, it's been a long time without wine."

The second New Zealand deployment is now on the ground at Camp Taji and has been training Iraqi soldiers for a few weeks.

The commander of the first rotation said each contingent would do things a little bit differently.

"We do handovers with a smaller crew that comes in ahead of the rest of them and there are always the tips of the trade that you pass onto them.

"But every trip when they go over they'll make it their own and they'll change things to fit into their personalities."

There will be four deployments in the course of the two year mission.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said New Zealand's troops on the ground were not going to solve things, and trying to train the Iraqi army would not work either.

He told Morning Report that rather than propping up the leadership of a dysfunctional army, New Zealand should be working with Western allies and keeping Western civilians safe and secure. He said the country's efforts would be best spent on intelligence-gathering.

View a gallery of photos from Prime Minister John Key's visit to Iraq in October:

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