WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand announced Monday that it plans to keep its small contingent of troops in Iraq for an additional 18 months as it continues to back the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to defeat the Islamic State group.
Last year, New Zealand deployed 143 military personnel on a two-year mission to train Iraqi security forces. That mission was due to end next May, but Prime Minister John Key said the troops would now stay until November 2018.
Key said the mission would be altered. The New Zealand troops will now be authorized to train Iraqi police as well as the army, as Iraq tries to hold onto recent territory gains over IS.
He said the group's brutality had been on display around the world, including in attacks in Paris and Brussels.
"And its sick propaganda has radicalized lone-wolf terrorists, who have carried out atrocities elsewhere," Key added.
Iraqi forces have recently driven militants from most of the city of Fallujah. That leaves Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, as the only remaining urban stronghold for IS militants in the country.
Opposition leader Andrew Little said in a statement that Key had not made a strong case for extending and expanding the mission, and that he was not being open about the demands being made on New Zealand by its coalition allies.
The New Zealand troops are based in the Taji military base north of Baghdad as part of a joint mission with Australia.