Some of the 140 New Zealand military personnel heading to Iraq to help in the fight against the Islamic State will depart today.
The troops will be shipping out from Australia over the next three weeks.
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he expects the joint force to be operational by the middle of May, and he is emphasising this isn’t a combat mission.
“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission not a combat mission,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
About 330 Australian personnel, mainly from Brisbane, will be deployed alongside the Kiwis on the two-year mission. It comes following a decision by federal cabinet on Tuesday.
The Kiwi and Australian troops will be based at the Taji military complex north of Baghdad.
Their mission will be to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against ISIS and regain control of its territory, Mr Abbott said.
“What we hope to have achieved within two years is to help train an effective Iraqi regular army that is at the disposal of the legitimate government of Iraq.”
A formal review of the mission will made after 12 months. As well, the size and nature of Australia’s overall commitment in Iraq will remain under regular review.
Mr Abbott says Australian personnel will not be working with irregular militias, despite reports some US troops have fought alongside Hezbollah brigades – an Iranian-backed Shi’ite group from Lebanon.
“We don’t work with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups,” Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abbott said Australia had no intention of using its planes for air strikes in Syria as IS retreats there from Iraq. But Australian surveillance and refuelling aircraft are being used to support operations throughout the Middle East theatre, he said.