NZ troops to be withdrawn from Iraq

Beehive:  New Zealand to withdraw from Iraq in June 2020:


New Zealand will conclude its non-combat Building Partner Capacity (BPC) mission at Taji Military Complex in Iraq in June 2020, when full responsibility for basic training will be handed over to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark announced today.

New Zealand currently deploys up to 95 personnel to the BPC at Taji. Following recent Cabinet decisions this will reduce to a maximum of 75 from July 2019 and 45 from January 2020, before the mission’s completion by June 2020.

New Zealand and Australia have been jointly delivering training to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) at Taji since 2015, when New Zealand first deployed to Iraq as part of the multinational Defeat-ISIS Coalition. Over 44,000 ISF personnel have been trained at Taji since 2015.

“Four years ago New Zealand made a commitment to the Iraqi Government and to the Coalition to train the ISF at Taji and lift their capability to defeat and prevent the resurgence of ISIS. Over the next 12 months, New Zealand will be able to wind down and conclude that commitment,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The New Zealand and Australian troops at Taji have worked hard, not only to provide training, but also to ensure that the ISF are well placed to take over this commitment at Taji in the near future. The goal of any training mission is to ensure that it becomes a sustainable programme.”

“Significant progress has been made in this area, which will allow the mission to reduce in numbers and conclude within the next year, having successfully achieved what we went in to do. This is an encouraging evolution and a success not only for us but also for the ISF personnel who have trained hard to gain the skills to become a modern military force,” said Ron Mark.

Alongside the deployment to Taji, the New Zealand Defence Force will continue in a reduced number of support roles within the Defeat-ISIS Coalition in the region. Cabinet will consider these positions again by next June.

New Zealand will however increase its stabilisation funding contribution to Iraq to approximately NZ$3 million per annum for the next three years (from NZ$2.4m in 2018-19) to help affected communities recover and rebuild following the conflict with ISIS.

Stabilisation funding will come from within MFAT’s overseas aid and development fund, and will contribute to what has been estimated to be a US$87 billion rebuild of Iraq.

“Despite its territorial defeat in Iraq in December 2017 and Syria in March 2019, it is clear that ISIS remains a threat and Iraq requires ongoing international support as it moves towards recovery and stabilisation,” said Winston Peters.

“As large numbers of Iraqi people return home and begin to rebuild their lives and communities, New Zealand’s targeted funding support can make a meaningful contribution towards this.”


National have sort of supported this – with a catch.

RNZ: National supports troop withdrawal – if partners do same

The National Party is on board with the government pulling Kiwi troops out of Iraq next year – on the condition Australia and the United States also withdraw.

National Party defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell said the decision to leave was the right one, providing everyone went at the same time.

“It looks okay with us, it would be dependent on whether it’s in line with what our partners are doing – especially the Americans and the Australians,” he said.

Australia is yet to make a formal announcement but Mr Mark told media yesterday the New Zealand decision was part of a carefully planned exit strategy alongside partners.

“We took a role of about a third/two-thirds contribution in partnership with Australia. This reduces down to a quarter/three-quarters and we will be downsizing alongside them and working with them, not just walking away from the mission,” Mr Mark said.

In a statement Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australia and New Zealand “consult closely on their respective deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

“Australia is proud to support the Iraqi Security Forces, alongside its New Zealand counterparts. We will continue to work closely with New Zealand as it gradually draws down its footprint in Iraq,” she said.

“Australia regularly reviews its overseas operations, taking into account the needs of the Iraqi Government and the operational context on the ground.”

Whether National backs the withdrawal probably won’t make any difference, as the drawdown will have largely happened by next year’s election.

I doubt there is much public support for staying in Iraq, and there will be much stronger support for a withdrawal.

 

US to leave 200 ‘peacekeepers’ in Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the US troops would withdraw from Syria took the world by surprise, and serious concerns were expressed in the Respected US. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis resigned immediately.

Trump said in a video released on Twitter:

“We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

That was questioned and ridiculed as fighting continued against ISIS.

And a  complete US withdrawal would have left Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia in positions of influence.

The plan has now been adjusted, with 200 peacekeepers to remain.

Reuters:  U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 American troops in Syria, saying they had defeated Islamic State militants there, even as U.S.-backed Syrian forces continued a final push against the group’s last outpost.

But Trump has been under pressure from multiple advisers to adjust his policy to ensure the protection of Kurdish forces, who supported the fight against Islamic State and who might now be threatened by Turkey, and to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s influence.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The decision was announced after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”

Leaving even a small group of U.S. troops in Syria could pave the way for European allies to commit hundreds of troops to help set up and observe a potential safe zone in northeast Syria.

The commander of U.S.-backed Syrian forces has called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in the country to help fight Islamic State and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

It would also have left the Kurds, who the US had supported in Syria, in a precarious position with Turkey.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

And it would have strengthened Iranian and Russian influence.

US senator Lindsey Graham had been strongly against the announced withdrawal.

Real Clear Politics (20 December 2018) – Sen. Graham: Trump Withdraw From Syria “A Stain On The Honor Of America”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night blasting President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Graham called Trump’s declaration that ISIS has been defeated “fake news” and leaving the country would be a “stain” on America.

Graham Statement on Syria (11 January 2019):

“From an American point of view, we have strategic objectives that must be accomplished in northeastern Syria.  The Iranians, Russians and Assad should not be allowed to be the biggest winners of our withdrawal.

“The mission in Syria is not yet complete and we must continue to work with our partners and allies to ensure that ISIS is destroyed and never returns.”

ABC News (17 January 2019):  Graham says Trump’s statements have emboldened ISIS in Syria

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top ally of President Donald Trump, expressed concerns on Wednesday that Trump’s comments about withdrawing troops from Syria have emboldened terrorist groups like ISIS, and that he hopes Trump thinks “long and hard” about his next moves when it comes to withdrawing troops from the war torn country.

“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting. You make people we are trying to help wonder about us.”

Task and Purpose (20 February 2019): Sen. Graham tells Shanahan that leaving Syria is ‘the dumbest f*****g idea I’ve ever heard’

“That’s the dumbest f******g idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly replied when Shanahan confirmed the Trump administration still plans to complete the Syria withdrawal by April 30.

Later, Graham told Shanahan, “I am now your adversary, not your friend.”

The blow up came during a Feb. 16 meeting in Munich with Shanahan and three dozen lawmakers from both parties, according to Breitbart, the Washington Post, and NBC.

Graham’s spokesman Kevin Bishop did not dispute media reports of Graham’s comments during the meeting, adding the senator declined to comment for this story.

While he rarely criticizes the president, Graham initially called Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops from Syria a “huge Obama-like mistake.”

The pressure on Trump to think long and hard – something that seems alien to his personality – seems to have worked.

After the announcement that the US would leave troops in Syria, Graham issued this statement:

“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria”.

“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.

“Well done Mr. President.”

It still won’t be easy keeping all the different forces at bay and counter the influence of Iran, Turkey and Russia, but at least the US will have a base presence to work from.

There is a heck of a lot of sorting out still to do in Syria.

The Syrian civil war started in 2011, with the US getting involved with an international coalition in  2014. It’s been complicated. From Wikipedia:

The Syrian government and Syrian Armed Forces and its international allies, a loose alliance of majorly Sunni opposition rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadistgroups (including al-Nusra Front), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved or providing support to one or another faction (Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States, as well as others).

Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah support the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Armed Forces militarily, with Russia conducting military operations since September 2015.

The U.S.-led international coalition, established in 2014 with the declared purpose of countering ISIL, has conducted airstrikes primarily against ISIL as well as some against government and pro-government targets.

Since 2015, the US has also supported the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and its armed wing, the SDF. Turkey, on the other hand, has become deeply involved against the Syrian government since 2016, actively supporting the Syrian opposition and occupying large swaths of northwestern Syria.

Between 2011 and 2017, fighting from the Syrian Civil War spilled over into Lebanon as opponents and supporters of the Syrian Arab Republic travelled to Lebanon to fight and attack each other on Lebanese soil.

Furthermore, while officially neutral, Israel has conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian forces, whose presence in southwestern Syria it views as a threat.

The 200 US troops that will remain in Syria have a few challenges – but will no doubt have a mass of ships and planes and troops not far away in support if needed.

And one of the biggest ongoing battles may be in limiting the damage Trump does with spur of the moment announcements on Twitter that can have serious implications for the Middle East and the world.

I hope Trump has not been given the ability to order nuclear strikes by tweet.