ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has requested that New Zealand increase the number of its personnel in Iraq for training local forces, a senior official said on Saturday.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that she had met with Stoltenberg to discuss some topics in the Middle East, mainly the regional security strategies there.
“He gave me a rundown of NATO training operations in Iraq, and he made a request for more New Zealand assistance there,” Ardern said, quoted by New Zealand’s Stuff news website.
“He mentioned it for the first time today. I said I couldn't make any comment until I had the chance to speak to my colleagues.”
Ardern’s speech came one day after her meeting with the NATO chief on Friday.
New Zealand troops have been present in Iraq in recent years as part of the US-led coalition in the fight against the Islamic State. It currently has 143 personnel in Iraq who have been participating in a joint training mission with Australia since 2015.
Most troops are stationed in Camp Taji, 27 kilometers north of Baghdad and are “strictly non-combat, and it will stay that way,” Ardern said in November last year.
The Pacific nation is planning to decrease the number of its soldiers in Iraq from 143 to 121 in the coming months.
“We're also happy and glad that New Zealand plays a valuable role in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. You are training Iraqi forces,” Stoltenberg said in a statement on Friday.
“NATO has trained Iraqi forces for some time but we're now scaling up our presence in Iraq with a new training mission and in our meeting today, we discussed how New Zealand and NATO can best coordinate our efforts in the fight against terrorism. Both in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere.”
This comes at a time that some major political blocs in Iraq are debating about the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
Iraq declared victory against the Islamic State in Dec. 2017, but the jihadist group continues to carry out insurgency attacks, ambushes, and kidnappings in several provinces, including Kirkuk, Nineveh, Anbar, Salahuddin, and Diyala.
Editing by John J. Catherine