The Government's decision to extend the deployment of New Zealand troops in Iraq to June 2019 could be extended even further, the Prime Minister says.
New Zealand Defence Force personnel will remain in Iraq until June next year, although the number of troops will fall slightly from 143 to 121, the Government announced on Monday, despite promising in opposition to pull troops out.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the troops will be stationed until June next year, and beyond that the Government will be "looking at the future of our contribution", telling the AM Show on Tuesday keeping them there beyond June 2019 is a "possibility".
- Opinion: Key’s mercenary U-turn on Iraq
- Jacinda Ardern's U-turn on pulling troops out of Iraq
- Families of killed soldiers want explanation from Defence Force over Afghanistan
"We as a Cabinet will make that decision really early next year because this is an extension out till June, and I do want us to have the opportunity to look at the environment," she said.
The Prime Minster said the Government was under no pressure from other countries to keep New Zealand forces in Iraq, and that the decision was made to extend their stay because of New Zealand's "obligations" and because "ISIS remains a threat".
"We have always looked for ways to contribute our expertise - it's not combat and obviously that will remain," Ms Ardern told The AM Show. "The long-term strategy always has to be exit and that's why I'm making sure we are investing in Iraqis building those skills."
"We still don't have the certainty around the Government, and the Iraqi government's invitation for us to be there is critical," she added. "There has to be that support for our presence."
There are around 143 New Zealand troops deployed at Taji Camp in Iraq which will be reduced to 121 in November. There are also around 11 New Zealand military personnel training army officers in Afghanistan, and their presence will also be reassessed early next year.
The troops were initially deployed in May 2015. It was meant to go until May 2017, but was extended by Mr Key to November 2018. In Opposition, Labour promised to pull the troops out, accusing National of mission creep.
The Prime Minister shook off criticism of her Government's long-term plan, and talk of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters having too strong an influence over her decision-making.
"The fact that we're able to generate such a strong long-term plan with big goals around housing, the economy [and] lifting wellbeing demonstrates how strong our relationship is," she said.
"I do not see that there is any undermining. I have a fantastic working relationship with the Deputy Prime Minister. We have contact almost daily on issues."