WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand will withdraw its troops from Iraq by June next year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday, ending a mission that helped train Iraqi defence forces to fight Islamic State militants.
New Zealand, which has up to 95 soldiers in Iraq, deployed troops there in 2015, in a joint training mission with Australia to support the multinational U.S.-led operation against Islamic State.
“Over the next 12 months, New Zealand will be able to wind down and conclude that commitment,” Ardern told a news conference to announce the decision.
Troop numbers would be cut to a maximum of 75 from July and 45 from next January, before the mission wraps up by June 2020, she added.
The troops provide training on basic weapons skills as well as medical support and logistics to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in camp Taji to the north of Baghdad, the capital.
More than 44,000 ISF personnel have been trained at Taji since 2015, the New Zealand government said in a statement.
U.S.-backed forces drove Islamic State out of its last stronghold in eastern Syria this year, bringing an end to a so-called caliphate declared by the militant group.
New Zealand’s deployment in Iraq had been scheduled to end in May 2017, but successive New governments extended the date. Last year Ardern extended the armed force deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan until June.
Ardern added that New Zealand will cut to 11 personnel, from 13, its deployment to a NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, but troops would remain until December 2020, to support the training of Afghan army officers.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)