BRITISH soldiers are in Iraq and working close to the front line of the fight between the Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish fighters, the Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday.
A “small specialist team” is based near the Kurdish capital of Erbil in northern Iraq after their deployment was approved by defence secretary Michael Fallon, a spokeswoman said.
They are in the war-torn region training Kurdish peshmerga forces in the use of heavy machine guns the UK supplied to them in September.
Reports said the soldiers were from the Cyprus-based 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “The government has previously made clear its intention to provide training to the peshmerga as part of the continued effort to assist in the fight against Isil.
“The defence secretary has approved the deployment of a small specialist team of non-combat army trainers which is now in the Erbil area providing instruction on operating, employing and maintaining the heavy machine guns that were gifted by the UK last month.”
British troops invaded Iraq in March 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein. 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.
RAF Tornado fighter-bombers have been taking part in US-led bombing raids on IS for a fortnight. But there is strong resistance among British politicians to any ground troop involvement in fighting against the Islamist group, which controls a vast swathe of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
Last night, it was claimed that Kurdish fighters have been able to halt the advance of IS in the Syrian border town of Kobani.
The Western coalition, targeting the militants in and around Kobani, conducted at least two airstrikes yesterday on the town.
US central command said warplanes from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates conducted four airstrikes in Syria on Saturday and yesterday, including three in Kobani.
The Syrian Kurdish enclave has been the scene of heavy fighting since late last month,. Heavily armed IS fighters are determined to capture the border post and deal a symbolic blow to the coalition air campaign.
The extremist group has carved out territory stretching hundreds of miles from northern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad and imposed a harsh version of Islamic rule.
The fighters have massacred hundreds of captured Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, terrorised religious minorities, and beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers.
The US has been speaking to Turkish officials about stepped-up efforts to equip and train Syrian rebels battling both the IS group and forces loyal to president Bashar Assad. US and European military officials will travel to Turkey this week to meet officials there and discuss ways in which Turkey can contribute.
Meanwhile, suspected IS bombers yesterday assassinated an Iraqi provincial police chief and killed 28 people in an attack on a Kurdish security headquarters, in a second straight day of mass attacks that killed scores.
The two attacks, in the north of the country and the west showed the group’s ability to inflict damage on both the forces of the autonomous Kurdish region and the central government, despite US-led airstrikes.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Kurdish security compound in the north. Hospital sources said Kurdish security forces and civilians were among the 28 killed in the attack.