A defence analyst says Kiwi troops are in a ‘hornet’s nest’ barely 100km from rampaging Isis troops in Iraq.
New Zealanders have started training local troops in Taji – Iraq – to fight the so-called Islamic State (Isis).
Taji – in a largely Sunni area – is about 120km from Ramadi – a city that Isis overran this week.
Dr Ron Smith – University of Waikato research associate – is now questioning his earlier support for the Kiwi deployment.
‘Knowing what I know now – do I think it was a good idea to go? No I don’t’.
The sight of Iraqi troops fleeing Ramadi and the increased use of Shia militias to fight Isis had made him rethink his support.
Dr Smith said anti-Isis coalition leadership under the US had been ‘feeble’ – limiting the usefulness of the Kiwi contribution.
It was important New Zealand supported its longstanding allies but the deployment was ‘almost in the nature of gesture politics’ – Dr Smith said.
‘We’ve got special forces which are reasonably well-maintained – trained and equipped. Beyond that we’ve got no defence forces. We’ve got no air force’.
This was paradoxical – given the aerial focus of coalition attacks on Isis so far.
Dr Smith said any upcoming battles would be ‘very nasty’ and he was worried Shia paramilitary forces would have little more respect for the laws of war than Isis had.
NZDF troops have arrived as a regional conflict between Shia and Sunni escalates – with Iran and Saudi Arabia struggling for dominance in proxy wars in Iraq and Yemen.
Most Isis gains lately have been in Sunni-majority areas. After the fall of Saddam Hussein – some long-oppressed Shia quickly exacted revenge on their Sunni neighbours.
In return some Sunnis now supported or tolerated Isis – and its fiercely anti-Shia ideology.
Auckland-based defence analyst Dr Paul G Buchanan said Taji’s location triggered concerns for Kiwi troops’ safety.
‘It’s in the middle of the Sunni triangle. It’s the last point of defence on the northern flank of Baghdad. These guys have just been put into the middle of a hornet’s nest’.