Little, Brownlee make secret trip to Taji

Labour leader Andrew Little and NZDF chief Lt Gen Tim Keating (NZDF / Supplied)
Labour leader Andrew Little and NZDF chief Lt Gen Tim Keating (NZDF / Supplied)

Labour leader Andrew Little and National MP Mark Mitchell joined the Defence Minister on a secret tour of Camp Taji in Iraq to visit the Kiwi troops based there.

The three were also joined by Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and have arrived in Dubai on their way home.

Little, Brownlee make secret trip to Taji

(NZ Defence Force)

It's the Defence Minister's second visit to see the troops.

The joint operation with Australia has trained more than 4000 Iraqi troops since the mission began in April 2015.

Mr Brownlee says this has "considerably improved" the country's security forces in their battle against D'aesh, also known as Islamic State.

Little, Brownlee make secret trip to Taji

NZDF chief Lt Gen Tim Keating (NZ Defence Force)

The Defence Force's presence in Iraq is part of a multi-country Building Partner Capacity programme across five sites.

Together, they've trained around 19,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces since November 2014.

Mr Brownlee invited Mr Little and Mr Mitchell -- chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee -- to join him on the visit.

Little, Brownlee make secret trip to Taji

Mark Mitchell and Andrew Little (NZ Defence Force)

"I thought it was important to offer the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity to see Task Group Taji in action for himself, and for Mr Mitchell, as the relevant select committee chair, to have first-hand experience of the mission.

"I'm very pleased Mr Little accepted the invitation," Mr Brownlee says.

Little, Brownlee make secret trip to Taji

(NZ Defence Force)

As part of their training, the troops receive basic weapons handling, counter IED, combat first aid, obstacle-breaching techniques, planning combat operations and the laws of armed conflict and human rights.

Mr Brownlee says it was pleasing to hear from senior Iraqi commanders that New Zealand-trained troops have captured and held towns and territory from Islamic State using their new skills.

Little, Brownlee make secret trip to Taji

(NZ Defence Force)

During the trip, Mr Brownlee and Mr Little also met with Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi.

Mr Little accepted Mr Brownlee's decision so he could see the conditions the Kiwi troops are working under.

"I was pleased to see the troops are conducting themselves with the skill and professionalism you would expect of the New Zealand Defence Force. It was good to get a chance to talk to them about their experiences in Iraq.

"New Zealanders may differ on the politics of this deployment, but we are all united in our support for our troops on the ground," he says.

Labour opposed sending troops to Iraq because of the Iraqi army's poor track record even after years of American training.

Mr Little is now making his way to Jordan to get a first-hand look at the refugee crisis.

He will visit the Zaatari Refugee Camp, where 80,000 refugees fleeing Syria are now living.

Newshub.

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