Brownlee: NZ won't join fight in Syria

(file, NZDF)
(file, NZDF)

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says New Zealand's contribution to the war in Iraq is helping, but combat troops won't be sent to join the fight against Islamic State (IS).

The Government has rejected a request from US Defence Secretary Ash Carter for more help in fighting the terror group, with Prime Minister John Key saying "we can pretty much categorically rule out" sending more troops to the region.

"The request would have seen some of our people go into Syria, we made it very clear that's not a place for us," Mr Brownlee told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

The Defence Minister recently returned from Belgium, where he attended an anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition meeting with representatives from 60 states.

He says although it appears IS is on the back foot, losing around 40 percent of the territory they had held in Iraq, there is plenty more work to be done.

"There's still a high degree of caution about the potential for Daesh - the preferred term for describing them these days - to reassert themselves, so you have to keep the effort up."

Mr Brownlee says the term Daesh is better suited to describing the group.

"The Arabic countries prefer to use that term, it's an Arabic term. It's not particularly flattering. But for this terrorist organisation to claim that they're a state is wrong, and for them to insist that they're Islamic and following the tenants of Islam is also wrong, and quite offensive to many, many countries who do have strong Islamic populations."

The current mandate is for 146 Kiwis to be involved in the training local troops in Iraq, said Mr Brownlee, and there are no plans for New Zealand soldiers to get directly involved in fighting.

"The Iraqi government has made it clear they don't want boots on the ground. They want to take this fight themselves and they're doing a good job of it.

"I think the best chance for the future of Iraq is most definitely the course that the Abadi government is taking, which is their own troops dealing with this problem."

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, David Shearer, says the Government did the right thing in refusing to send more troops, but he doesn't believe much progress is being made.

"Currently, we're spending about $60 million on training troops. That's a very expensive training operation for very little impact," says Mr Shearer.