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British troops going back to Iraq to help local forces fight ISIL militants

LONDON: Britain is sending troops back to Iraq to help local forces in the battle against Islamic State militants, the Defence Secretary has confirmed.

Michael Fallon said the UK was “stepping up” its military presence in the country, with its forces offering further training to Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. It comes after a “small specialist” team was sent to instruct Peshmerga in the northern city of Irbil last month.

Fallon, who visited British army trainers teaching Peshmerga fighters how to use heavy machine guns given by Britain, insisted that no combat troops will be deployed to Iraq. He said the latest move would see UK troops teaching Kurds infantry skills such as sharp-shooting and first aid, while more equipment will be provided.

The UK will also send advisory personnel to Iraqi headquarters. There have been growing calls to provide more assistance to new Iraqi prime minister Haider al Abadi as his country’s forces struggle to reclaim territory from IS in the north and west.

Fallon held talks in Baghdad with the PM and Iraqi security advisers, before flying north to Irbil to met the President of the Kurdistan regional government Masoud Barzani and prime minister Nechirvan Barzani. “The need is now,” he said.

“It’s a very immediate challenge from ISIL. As they start to push ISIL back out of the villages and towns that ISIL have gone into they are going to need this kind of assistance with roadside bombs, particularly to counter the terror tactics that ISIL have been using.

“So, we are looking very urgently now how we can get more training help to them in the next few weeks.”

Asked about concerns of mission creep, he said, “This is a very limited mission. The Prime Minister’s made it very, very clear we are not going to recommit combat troops to Iraq. We’ve been there, we’ve done that.

“What we are going to do is to help the new government of Iraq and its own army take the fight to ISIL through the aircraft we have deployed in the sky, through intelligence gathering, and through specialist training.”

British troops took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein, and later took responsibility for Basra and the south of the country.