Anzac troop move slammed by Labour

NO FIGHTING: Prime Minister John Key has ruled out sending combat troops to Iraq.

NO FIGHTING: Prime Minister John Key has ruled out sending combat troops to Iraq.

Labour leader Andrew Little has slated the possible deployment of Kiwi troops to Iraq under an Anzac banner a "cynical" move by the Government.

And he warns  the move would likely see New Zealand troops take on a combat role in conjunction with Australia.

He said Labour would oppose New Zealand troops being deployed to Iraq to train local forces because the Government had failed to make a case for it.

Prime Minister John Key today said a possible Anzac-badged training force in Iraq next would pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the New Zealand and Australian forces in Gallipoli in 1915.

But he said a decision on a joint Anzac-badged force was quite a way off.

"We wouldn't want to do something that was disrespectful, and we are quite a way from making a decision.

There were people who would say New Zealand and Australia working together made sense, such as by co-hosting the Cricket World Cup next year.

"Maybe having a badged unit is something that just demonstrates the solidarity between Australia and New Zealand."

But a badged unit meant the two would be bound together, Key said.

"You are in at the same time, you are out at the same time."

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Labour is opposed to the deployment, but Key said the Government was scoping out what was possible, how long the troops would be there and their role.

"Once they got to that position he would talk to the other political parties about it... In the end if they don't support it they don't support it ... I would prefer to have it if I could."

He said New Zealand needed to show it was a good international citizen. New Zealanders were "prolific travelers" and so were exposed to danger from terrorists.

But Little said Labour was unlikely to support the deployment.

"I've always said the prime minister has to make the case about why we would send troops into a  hostile zone.  We know that troops for training can easily turn into combat troops.

"If that's the case and we're going to put our people into harms way the prime minister has to make the case, explain what the mission is, what the objective is, how we get out if it doesn't work. He hasn't done any of that."

He was also critical of the talk of an "Anzac badged" unit.

"That makes it more disturbing because the Australians' mandate if they go into that zone is not just training, it is about combat; I think it's pretty cynical of the prime minister to allow us to be drawn into a joint role with the Australians under some sort of sentimental throw back to the Anzacs; I think that's very cynical and it doesn't stop me and Labour being opposed to sending troops into that zone."

Little also questioned the reason the prime minister failed to mention the Anzac role till it emerged in Australian media reports.

Key and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott discussed the proposal in Australia some weeks ago, but that was not divulged at the time.

There was no mention of the Anzac proposal either in the prime minister's speech outlining New Zealand's possible contribution in Iraq, where international forces have been requested to help the Iraqi government combat the rise of Islamic State.

Historian Ian McGibbon said New Zealand and Australian forces had served alongside each other in Anzac units from Gallipoli to Vietnam. But he had never heard of the troops of both countries wearing an Anzac badge.

Creating such a badge in 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, would be "highly symbolic", he said.

Four defence personnel are in Iraq scouting potential sites and the likely size of any Kiwi contingent, which Key confirmed could number between 40 and 100 troops.

He spelled out New Zealand's likely response to the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq last month.

He ruled out deploying troops in a combat role but said New Zealand may send troops in a training capacity, so long as they could be airlifted in and out, rather than travel by road where the dangers of bomb attack were high.

Some combat troops could be provided for "force protection", however - and Key did not rule out using the elite Special Air Service in that role.

He did not refer to the Anzac link in his November speech and it emerged only yesterday after Australian media reports.

Key said the idea of the unit was raised by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd. "At the time we said, yep, that's potentially possible and one argument could possibly be the 100 years commemoration of Gallipoli."

Robert Ayson, professor of strategic studies at Victoria University, said such a force could embroil New Zealand in tricky "alliance management" issues because Australia was likely to be more receptive to requests to take on more of a combat role.

But there were advantages for New Zealand, including the greater protection offered by working alongside a larger force.

The two nations had also been looking for ways to demonstrate the importance of the relationship militarily and this would serve that purpose - "but if you'd told me a year ago the first time an Anzac force might occur in the modern period would be against Isis in Iraq I would have told you you were crazy," Ayson said.


 - Stuff

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