NZ politicians Ron Mark, Andrew Little and Simon O'Connor face a haka by NZ troops deployed to Iraq in February 2018.

NZDF Trainers Out of Iraq?

New Zealand has had a training team, associated protection detail and staff officers (about 143 pers in total) in Iraq since May 2015. They are part of an international anti-ISIS coalition and partner with the Australian Defence Force on the training task. On 20 June 2016, the Government decided to extend New Zealand’s contribution to the Building Partner Capacity mission to 30 November 2018.

There has been much speculation about whether the troops will stay and in what role. Helping to rebuild the nation has been touted as a possibility. Minister of Defence, Hon Ron Mark (NZ First party), Minister for intelligence agencies GCSB and SIS, Hon Andrew Little (Labour party), as well as Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, Simon O’Connor (National party) visited the troops in theatre earlier this year. There is no doubt, in my mind, that the Taji mission has added value to Iraq’s stability. Likewise, the job of stabilising the region is not over. In a February piece, Victoria University Profs David Capie and Rob Ayson predicted that Australian pressure would prevail to keep us there:

“Something tells us that in the end New Zealand’s most important international relationship will take priority over domestic sentiment, but this will make it harder for the new government to demonstrate that it brings a fresh approach to New Zealand’s foreign and defence policy.”

Ironically, it may be a typo or straight out OPSEC fail by the proof readers in this year’s recent budget that has shown the Government’s hand. The departmental output expense “Military Operations in Support of a Rules-Based International Order” has reduced from $51.915 million in 2017/18 to $38.569 in 2018/19. On page 35 of Vote Defence Force in the Estimates of Appropriations 2018/2019 we find this explanatory note:

“Decreased funding of $18.176 million for the successful completion in 2017/18 of NZDF’s support, through the provision of training, security, engineering, and supervision, for United Nations and Multi-national force operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the Middle East.”

What operation successfully concluded in 2017/18? According to the NZDF website, the last major mission to end was in 2013.

So, is the roughly $18m about the right amount to represent this deployment? You decide, based on the various Cabinet Papers – (released under OIA) that show:

CAB Minute (15)5 8 dated 23 Feb 2015
CAB Minute (15)5 8 dated 23 Feb 2015
CAB NSC-16-MIN-0018
CAB NSC-16-MIN-0018

Looks about the right number for 6 months in Taji to me, regardless of whether it is taken from existing MCAs or otherwise. I have put in an OIA request asking which mission(s) ended to provide for this cut in expenditure. I’ll write more when that is replied to. Interested in other national security topics? Why not follow my blog UNCLAS.COM. In the meantime, the service personnel who are training in the event the mission might extend and their families who are preparing to potentially be without their loved ones deserve a straight answer from this Government.