Little takes 'weird' position on SAS in Iraq -- Key

Little takes 'weird' position on SAS in Iraq -- Key

Labour leader Andrew Little's willingness to send New Zealand special forces to the Middle East has been called "weird" by John Key, given he was against Kiwi troops training Iraqi soldiers.

The Prime Minister yesterday "pretty much categorically" ruled out sending New Zealand's SAS to help fight Islamic State (IS) at the request of the US government, saying it didn't fit with the country's mission.

It also wasn't what the Iraqi government and its leader, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, wanted either, Mr Key said.

But today, Mr Little reiterated his position on the situation, saying if certain conditions were met then the Government should consider sending the SAS into Iraq and Syria -- the stronghold of IS.         

"The position I put is that we would never say no to that, but there'd have to be the right conditions -- one is the proper UN mandate, the other is as part of an international force, the third is that there's got to be a practical, effective mission.

"We would never rule it out, but we'd like pretty clear conditions to be met."

However, he believed any mandate to enter Syria wouldn't come soon or easy with the world's superpowers at odds on which side to back.

Labour was opposed to the Government sending around 140 Kiwi troops to Camp Taji in Iraq, a small group of which were trainers, in a joint mission with Australia.

"Our objection to the mission in Iraq is that it was 16 trainers propping up the Iraqi Army, which at that time had proven itself to be virtually ineffective. I'm not sure it is even that effective.

"There's the talk of them having taken Ramadi, but Ramadi was destroyed as a town."

But Mr Key has labelled Mr Little's position "really weird" and inconsistent.

"That feels really weird to me because on the one hand, it's a lot more dangerous as we know -- notwithstanding the skill and quality of our people, which is world-class -- but I just don't think it is productive in terms of what would get the right outcome.

"The problem with sending the SAS is that I don't think Andrew is very well informed in this area.

"The concern from [Prime Minister] al-Abadi and the Iraqi government is that the moment you bring in these foreign fighters fighting their war, you're back to where you were when Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown and that is something that the Iraqis don't want."

Mr Key believes the trainers are in "the safest environment they can be in what is a warzone effectively" and the mission is working.

But Mr Little says no matter where you deploy troops, there is an element of risk.

"It is about the effective deployment of our troops as part of a wider contribution."

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee also reiterated Mr Key's position, telling the Paul Henry programme going into Syria was "not a place for us".