Skip to main content

Iraqi Troops: Training

Volume 771: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many Iraqi troops British forces are expected to help train this year to fight Daesh.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Mobarik, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, numbers of Iraqi, including Kurdish, security force personnel in training at any time depend on the operational tempo. Since December 2014, UK military personnel have helped to train more than 12,000 individuals in infantry skills, weapons maintenance techniques and counter-IED and combat medical expertise. We expect this effort to continue in the coming year. The pace of training reflects the Iraqi Government’s ability to identify personnel and units not currently committed to offensive operations, who are therefore able to attend training in the subjects we offer.

Daesh—or Islamic State, call it what you will—is waging war, as your Lordships know, not just in Iraq but in Syria, Libya and, indeed, against the whole West. It is incumbent upon nations such as ourselves and in our own interest to assist in the battle against this brutal organisation. Will my noble friend tell the House what progress is being made with our assistance in Iraq in the war against Daesh?

My Lords, before I answer my noble friend, as this is a Ministry of Defence Question, I think that it would be appropriate to express the Armed Forces’ appreciation to Her Majesty on her birthday for her deep knowledge of, interest in and support to her Armed Forces.

I am pleased to report that the campaign against Daesh in Iraq is making progress. With coalition support, Iraqi security forces have taken around 40% of the populated areas that Daesh once held in Iraq, including Tikrit, Sinjar and Ramadi, and Hit is now being cleared of Daesh remnants. We have also been striking elsewhere in northern Iraq, predominantly on Daesh’s lines of communication, to support the Iraqi forces preparing for the retaking of Mosul. We will continue to provide vital air support and specialist training and equipment, as I mentioned.

My Lords, I have no doubt whatever that the coalition will defeat Daesh militarily in Iraq—but what then? To defeat and destroy Daesh we have to get to its heartland, which is in Syria. Does the Minister agree that, to do that, we will have to talk to the loathsome Assad and deal with the Syrian army? That is the truth on the ground and we will not defeat Daesh militarily overall unless we do that.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise the point that this crosses borders— Daesh does not recognise conventional borders. One problem of course is that when we do defeat it militarily, foreign fighters in particular move to other countries. I agree with the noble Lord that we have to consider what we do in other countries including Syria, and, during the transition, dealing with people we may not wish to deal with. However, defeating Daesh militarily is not the only answer. The coalition has five lines of effort, not only for military support but dealing with foreign fighters, Daesh financing and funding, humanitarian stabilisation work and exposing the true nature of Daesh.

My Lords, Britain has a proud record of helping to build a free and democratic Iraq. Like noble Lords across the House, I am full of admiration for the role played by our Armed Forces. I can think of no better way of assisting that country than helping it defend itself, especially against the tyrannical evil of ISIL. Can the Minister say whether the troops deployed on training are embedded forces which, according to the Statement issued by the Defence Secretary on Monday, would put them under Iraqi command and mean that they could become combatants without the British Parliament being told about it?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a Written Statement, to which the noble Lord referred, and made it clear that embedded forces are not included in the convention that has grown up since 2011, when troops are sent to conflict zones, of bringing that to the House of Commons. However, he has acknowledged that transparency is needed, and those embedded forces—where they are and who they work for—are made public once a year. There are embedded forces in coalition HQs. At the moment there are 177 embedded forces throughout the world. That number will be updated in a year’s time.

My Lords, having recently returned from a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan under the auspices of Christian Aid, I ask whether due consideration has been given to the fight against Daesh to the extent that it must involve support for the removal of mines and explosive devices. Many millions are still in situ in the places that are being liberated.

I could not agree more with the right reverend Prelate. That is one of the main features of our training and it is particularly appreciated. When forces take over former Daesh territory it is littered with booby traps, so we provide not only training but counter-IED detectors.

My Lords, in the context of increasing turbulence in the Middle East, can the Minister give us an assessment of the effect of this country leaving the European Union along the lines proposed the other day by Mr Gove, who suggested that our model for the future outside the European Union might be something along the lines of Serbia and Albania?

My Lords, the Government’s position is that Britain is stronger within the European Union. That includes our security position as well.

My Lords, if I could get slightly closer to the Question, which is about training troops to fight against Daesh, does the Minister have the latest figures for how many troops we have in Jordan, which in many ways is the other key front against Daesh operations? I know that this is slightly outside the Question but it is very much part of the overall battlefield.

My Lords, I do not have the precise figures to hand, but we have increased our aid to Lebanon and Jordan with exactly that in mind.

My Lords, we are beginning to be effective in choking off the finance to Daesh. Are we providing training and help to other states to enable them to improve that capability of choking off the money? It seems to be having a great effect.

My noble friend is absolutely right that Daesh is feeling the pressure on the finance side. We of course agree that it extends to other countries. As I mentioned, we acknowledge that when we defeat Daesh militarily in one area, foreign fighters move to other countries. We are bearing that in mind.