NZDF troops return home from the Middle East

About 100 NZDF troops returned home tonight from a six-month deployment to Iraq and the Sinai Peninsula.

About 100 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) troops who returned home this evening from a six-month deployment in the Middle East were commended for their work in Iraq and the Sinai Peninsula.

Two-thirds of the returning troops deployed to Iraq’s Camp Taji in May and worked alongside members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to train about 4500 Iraqi Security Forces personnel over the past six months.

The rest served as part of the Multinational Force and Observers, an independent international organisation created by agreement between Egypt and Israel with peacekeeping responsibilities in the Sinai Peninsula.

Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said the work of the returning troops brought credit to New Zealand.

Corporal Hannah Bristow hugs her four-year-old son Leo after arriving home from the Sinai Peninsula.

“Together with our coalition partners, we have helped build the capacity of the Iraqi military and start them on a path towards a self-reliant and self-sustaining force,” he said.

“Well-trained Iraqi fighters, some of whom were trained by New Zealand and Australian soldiers, recaptured areas from Islamic State extremists and are currently maintaining security in these areas.”

Rear Admiral Gilmour also cited the work of the NZDF peacekeepers in the Sinai Peninsula.

“Our personnel operate in austere environments such as in the Sinai, where Islamic militants have been inciting violence. We are proud of the work they have done and their contribution to efforts in maintaining peace in the Middle East region.”

Defence Minister Ron Mark welcomed the troops home at the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea.

An NZDF soldier hugs his son after arriving home from the Middle East.

About 800 NZDF troops have gone to Iraq since 2015 to work alongside Australian military personnel to train Iraqi forces, with an eighth rotation of 90 soldiers deploying in late October.

Task Group Taji, as the combined New Zealand-Australia task group is called, has trained more than 39,000 Iraqi soldiers and police since the training mission began in May 2015.

“The entire Task Group Taji feels a sense of achievement to see the increased confidence and the sharper skills demonstrated by the Iraqi forces we have trained,” Lieutenant Colonel Jason Hutchings, the NZDF Senior National Officer for the seventh rotation, said.

A New Zealand Defence Force soldier briefs Iraqi Army soldiers during a dry-fire practice at Camp Taji in Iraq. Credit: Australian Defence Force

Based at Camp Taji, the NZDF soldiers help train Iraqi forces in weapons handling, night combat, marksmanship at close quarters and longer ranges, combat first aid, urban and rural operations, explosives hazard awareness and obstacle breaching techniques.

All Iraqi forces are also taught the fundamental aspects of international human rights law and the Law of Armed Conflict.

In September the New Zealand Government extended the NZDF’s training mission in Iraq to June 2019.

Corporal Harley Davis conducts dry-fire practice with Iraqi Army soldiers at Camp Taji in Iraq. Credit: Australian Defence Force