As British troops leave Afghanistan, the UK government has said it will dispatch a number of army officers back to Iraq. The officers will assist in a US-led effort to train Iraqi security forces in their ongoing battle against Islamic State jihadists.
Speaking in Baghdad on Wednesday, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the UK would be sending an ‘advisory panel’ to Baghdad as well as provide additional training to Peshmerga fighters.
“The UK, as part of the international coalition, is already taking part in airstrikes across Iraq and carrying out training for Kurdish forces in the north of the country” Fallon said.
“It is right that we do more to help Iraqi forces take the fight to ISILon the ground which is why the UK is offering the further training, support and assistance I have outlined today”.
Fallon also said that Britain would increase the number of reaper drones to the region in order to provide intelligence,surveillance and reconnaissance to the Iraqi army.
The decision to send troops to the region to fight Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, follows statements earlier this year by Prime Minister David Cameron, who said he would not put“boots on the ground”after his decision to assist in US-led airstrikes on Islamic State targets.
“Britain is not going to get involved in another war in Iraq. We are not going to be putting boots on the ground. We are not going to be sending in the British Army,” he said in August.
However, the British government has come under significant pressure from campaigners, senior military officers and MPs to do more to curb the advance of Islamic State in Iraq, particularly after it captured the country’s second largest city, Mosul, earlier this year.
There have also been concerns raised regarding the Baghdad government’s stability after former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down in August. The country’s parliament urged him to resign as a result of his perceived failure to contain Islamic State attacks.
While Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haider al Abadi, has seemingly welcomed international assistance, he has ruled out any ground intervention from foreign powers.
Speaking in the city of Najaf last month, he told reporters that the country did not require any “superpower, international coalition or regional power” to help fight jihadists.
“If Iraq fails or the government becomes sectarian then that is a massive problem. If we are serious then we have got to stop [it] failing,” a Whitehall source told The Times.
“If we can stabilize Iraq, then we have got a hard shoulder to start putting the squeeze back on Syria. If we lose Iraq, then we are doomed.”
Britain currently has 12 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment stationed in Iraq, training Peshmerga forces in using heavy weaponry. The input is significantly smaller than that from the US, which has deployed 12 teams of specialists to assist the Iraqi government.