10 Dec 2015

US asks for more help fighting Islamic State

12:53 pm on 10 December 2015

The United States is demanding its allies, including New Zealand, step up their military contributions in the war against Islamic State.

American Defence Secretary Ash Carter told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing the US was stepping up its military role in Syria and Iraq and in the past week he had asked other members of the coalition to do more.

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

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee speaks to NZ troops at Ohakea Air Base on 16 November on their return from Iraq. Photo: Pool / Warwick Smith / Fairfax NZ

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed Mr Carter had sent a letter to the government last Friday.

He said it was a generic letter asking for help including elite troops, air strikes, provision of ammunition and training.

New Zealand and Australia are jointly deployed to Iraq to train local security forces as part of international efforts to combat Islamic State.

The second New Zealand deployment is on the ground at Camp Taji, near Baghdad.

Mr Brownlee told Morning Report the government was not rushing to make a decision on the request.

"We're going through a review at the moment of the first tranche of the training mission that we're involved in at Taji and that'll be presented to Cabinet in March, and I think from that time we'll be able to assess whether or not there's something else we could do."

More on New Zealand's role in Iraq

Labour Party defence spokesman Phil Goff said New Zealand should "think long and hard" about any wider involvement.

"In every case of involvement in a military deployment we've seen that committment get wider and last longer. "

He said the consideration of a special force deployment was the likely next step for New Zealand's involvement in Syria. Labour would only support this as part of a United Nations mandated mission.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter addresses the faculty and students of George Washington University November 18, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Ash Carter said it had taken a "frustratingly long time" for Iraqi forces to regain territory from Islamic State. Photo: AFP

Mr Carter told the senate committee on Wednesday the US was prepared to deploy advisers and attack helicopters if requested by Iraq to help it "finish the job" of retaking the city of Ramadi from Islamic State.

His remarks were the latest sign of US preparations to intensify its military campaign against the group, which controls wide swathes of Iraq and Syria and has orchestrated and inspired attacks abroad.

Islamic State captured Ramadi, a provincial capital just a short drive west of Baghdad, in May in its biggest conquest since last year, and retaking it would be a major victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Mr Carter said it has taken a "frustratingly long time" for Iraqi security forces to claw back territory, but pointed to significant gains, including recapturing the Anbar Operations Centre on the northern bank of the Euphrates River in the past 24 hours.

"The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi Army with additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers, if circumstances dictate and if requested by Prime Minister Abadi," Mr Carter said.

President Barack Obama is under mounting pressure to escalate America's military role in Iraq and Syria, particularly after the 13 November assaults in Paris that killed 130 people, claimed by Islamic State, and last week's paramilitary-style attack in California by a couple believed by authorities to have been inspired by Islamist militancy.

- RNZ / Reuters

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