BRITAIN is “stepping up” its military presence in Iraq, with troops being sent to help local forces in the battle against Islamic State, the Defence Secretary confirmed yesterday.
UK forces will offer further training to Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Michael Fallon said.
It marks an expansion of UK involvement in the campaign, after a “small specialist” team was sent to instruct Peshmerga in the northern city of Erbil last month.
During his first visit to Iraq, Mr Fallon told the BBC: “We are going to be stepping up our training effort. I can’t give you precise numbers. I’m here to evaluate training needs and there are areas of expertise, particularly in counter-IED, roadside car bombs, where we can help from our experience in Afghanistan.
“So we will be putting in more training people to help at the training centres across the country, not just in the Kurdish areas.”
Mr Fallon, who visited British Army trainers teaching Peshmerga fighters how to use heavy machine guns provided by the UK, insisted that the government remains clear that no combat troops will be deployed to Iraq.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
Under the expansion of the training mission, UK troops will teach Kurds infantry skills such as sharpshooting and first aid, and more equipment will be provided. The UK will also send advisory personnel to Iraqi headquarters.
Pressure has been growing to provide more assistance to new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi as his country’s forces struggle to reclaim territory in the north and west.
Mr Fallon held talks in Baghdad with the premier, as well as Iraqi security advisers, before flying north to Erbil to meet the president of the Kurdistan regional government Masoud Barzani and prime minister Nechirvan Barzani.
He added: “The need is now. It’s a very immediate challenge from Isil. As they start to push Isil back out of the villages and towns that Isil have gone into, they are going to need this kind of assistance with roadside bombs, particularly to counter the terror tactics that Isil have been using.
“So we are looking very urgently now how we can get more training help to them in the next few weeks.”
Asked about concerns of mission creep, he replied: “This is a very limited mission. The Prime Minister’s made it very, very clear we are not going to recommit combat troops to Iraq. We’ve been there, we’ve done that.
“What we are going to do is to help the new government of Iraq and its own army take the fight to Isil through the aircraft we have deployed in the sky, through intelligence gathering, and through specialist training.”
British troops were part of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that overthrew Saddam Hussein, and later took responsibility for Basra and the south of the country. The last combat troops with Operation Telic, as it was called, left in April 2009, with a small number staying on to train Iraqi forces until 2011.
The head of Joint Forces Command told MPs that the UK’s commitment in Iraq would “endure for some time” but the aim was not to defeat IS by military force alone.
General Sir Richard Barrons said: “We are providing niche support, it’s actually really quite small-scale, based on the government’s direction, and we expect that contribution to be small but to endure for some time.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS