The Taji report

Written By: - Date published: 7:02 am, October 13th, 2015 - 17 comments
Categories: accountability, iraq, john key, war - Tags: , , , , ,

Key is recently back from visiting troops at the Taji base in Iraq (you’ve probably seen the pictures). Credit to him for going, like Helen Clark’s trip to Afghanistan, I think it is fitting that someone who decides to send troops to a dangerous environment fronts up there personally. And you can’t blame him for making a media circus of it, that’s politics.

However this report, which came out shortly before Key’s visit, raises some issues:

Serious problems at Taji military base in Iraq – US report

Incomplete equipment and substandard living conditions for trainees are among the problems dogging an Iraqi military base visited by Prime Minister John Key, a critical American report says.

The report, released before Key’s visit and which assesses efforts by US and coalition forces to train Iraqi soldiers, said equipment provided by American forces to Iraqi army brigades training at sites like Taji would at times arrive incomplete, meaning it was “not fully mission-capable”.

At Taji, soldiers were living inside schools run by Iraqi security forces with water and power that was not turned on due to supposed funding issues. …

Read the article for more details – it sounds like Taji is a fiasco. Does Key know? Does he care? When questioned it seems that, as usual, Key is conveniently ignorant:

John Key unaware of Defence report on Taji camp

Prime Minister John Key said he was not aware of a US Defense report which raised concerns about the equipment and conditions at the Taji Military Camp before he visited Iraq last week.

New Zealand trainers were among those the team had spoken to. The report said that the trainers had raised concerns about the living conditions for the Iraqi soldiers, saying the water and power were not on and it was distracting trainees from their work.

“As a result the trainees’ poor living conditions have had a significant effect on soldiers’ morale.”

Key should have known about this report, and should be fully and honestly briefed on the conditions at the camp where he has sent NZ troops. It’s just too cute for him to play the ignorance card yet again.

17 comments on “The Taji report”

  1. Lucy 1

    But surely this is how you get soldiers killing trainers if the trainer conditions are seen by badly paid soldiers as so much better than theirs the level of resentment blows up so ISIL is able to take advantage. Have our defence force really learnt nothing from their multiple failed missions starting in Korea, and going through Vietnam, East Timor, and so on.

  2. shorts 2

    Key should have know or at least someone should have known the conditions are a disaster for those being trained and our own personal – I guess its asking too much for the public to be informed there are problems and the solutions “going forward”

    instead we get Key the actor perfecting his ideal role

    Would be nice for a change for the media to try and take him to task over the allegations… instead we’ve got a bunch of puff pieces most centred around the trip to and from Iraq

    Needless to say it was going to be a disaster from the get go because that is the entire strategy (it seems) in the middle east and everywhere the US and her enablers go – as a friend maybe we could tell them to sort their shit out with regards to their endless wars of vengeance and hate

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Although the shortcomings are severe, they also fall into the realm of detail. Minor operational shortcomings in amongst the massive strategic failure which is US intervention in Iraq.

  4. Paul G. Buchanan 4

    Timing of the public release of the report was coincident with Key’s PR jaunt to Taji, but the truth is that coalition partners were given it in advance. Key says that it was Brownlee’s job to handle the matter, but perhaps Brownlee was too busy working the panda exchange to give his boss a head’s up that all is not well at Taji–and that is just inside the wire.

    More worrisome perhaps is the fact that it does not appear as if the NZDF is undertaking its own independent review of the “training mission.” Regardless of what allies say, it would seemingly behoove the NZDF to get its own grip on how things are going and assess the viability of the mission over the duration of the two year commitment.

    In light of this, it seems that from the get-go this deployment had mission creep written all over it. The PM has already started to hint as much. That suggests to me that the decision is already a fait acompli and it is the details that are being worked out at the moment. Although I can see the merits of a re-defined mission (say, on the use of the SAS and deployment of PRTs in liberated zones should that happen), I would hope that the Opposition gets out in front of this before the done deal results in a more open ended and ill-defined deeper involvement in what could turn out to be another strategic quagmire.

    • Grindlebottom 4.1

      In light of this, it seems that from the get-go this deployment had mission creep written all over it. The PM has already started to hint as much.

      Only comments from the PM that I’ve heard/seen have been to the effect that he thinks the two year deployment is “about right” and that he wasn’t planning to extend it. Where has he been hinting otherwise Paul?

      • Paul G. Buchanan 4.1.1

        Over the last month, during his trip to the UN General Assembly meetings, he has made public statements to the effect that he would consider sending the NZDF to Syria if the circumstances warranted. His comments were reported at the time.

        • Grindlebottom

          Oh, ok thanks.Not that it matters much but I’d have classed sending troops to Syria as a new mission rather mission creep.

          1) The US has no viable “moderate” opposition to usefully support who aren’t islamists themselves, except maybe the Kurds in the North, who probably won’t extend their reach much beyond where they are now. (The Turks probably don’t mind YPK fighting ISIS but wouldn’t like them gaining much more territory, might withdraw consent for the US to use Turkish airbases if they did, and might even intervene militarily to weaken them.)

          2) ISIL seems to have a pretty firm grip on the extensive territory it currently holds. They seem to be the biggest, best organised, best-funded and most internally cohesive opposition to Assad. And they seem to still have no shortage of new recruits or morale problems despite small defeats in the North, attacks by other opposition groups, and now Russian as well as US airstrikes. Still difficult to defeat I reckon.

          3) Russian airstrikes on non-ISIS opposition groups, and Russian and Iranian military assistance to Assad are suddenly allowing him to retake territory previously lost, after he was pretty much on the ropes last month. Putin has pretty comprehensively defeated a very poorly conceived and executed US strategy aimed at removing Assad. They’re still lost about what to do about it, aren’t they? Putin is toughing them out.

          At the moment I reckon Assad stands a good chance of coming out the eventual winner, and if not, it’ll be some form of fundamentalist islamic regime(s) with maybe a separate Kurdish state up North.

          I’d hate to see any of our troops get anywhere near this “everybody loses” nightmare. Surely Key wouldn’t be that mad? This is the only thing I could find on what he’s recently said about this issue:

          [Click to Edit | Delete] (9 minutes and 35 seconds)

          • Paul G. Buchanan

            I agree that the Western campaign against Syria is fraught and that Putin has trumped it. But remember that the core of the Daesh leadership are Iraqis and Iraq is as much if not more important to them than Syria. I find the NZ possibility of involvement in Syria, even if as little as a PRT in a hypothetical Western-controlled area, to be very problematic and hope that if the option is being considered that the down side be thought through. One of which is that a successful Russian offensive could well push Daesh back towards its Iraqi homeland (Anbar Province), where the NZDF is stationed.

            I differ with Western analysts in that I do not see Russian intervention in Syria as necessarily a bad thing. Russia has significant strategic interests in Syria, to include 3 listening posts (one under Daesh control), the naval base at Tartus and now the port, airfield and base at Latakia. As a result of Soviet era exchanges, it has over 100,000 Russian citizens living in Syria. It sells Syria most of its weapons and a significant amount of commodities. It therefore arguably has a stronger strategic interest in Syria than any Western nation, and has had that interest for 40 years.

            That means that it is not as much Assad who the Russians want to help as it is the political, military and diplomatic status quo that underpins his regime. Putin and his advisors know that a return to the status quo ante is impossible, but a regime that incorporates Sunni interests while defending those of Alawites, Assyrians, Christians, Druze and other ethnic groups supportive of the Ba’athist state and of maintaining ties with Russia is worth fighting for. Assad may have to go for a post-conflict deal to be struck but his personal fortunes are not equal to those of the government that he leads and which will have to negotiate the transition to post-conflict rule.

            Since Assad’s military will be defeated if the Russians withdraw, and because the latter have limited military objectives beyond defending the coastal strip in which their interests are located, Russia’s military involvement can accelerate the resolution of the conflict, albeit on terms more favourable to them than to the West. That scenario may well be acceptable in light of the alternatives present at the moment, so it behooves the Wester coalition to work cooperatively with Russian military planners in order to achieve that end.

            Put another way. In order to play a strong hand down the road in determining the character of the next Syrian regime, the Russians have short-term upped the military ante and their stake in the conflict by committing weapons and troops in significant numbers. This not only defends Assad’s support base and allows his forces to regain some initiative in the conflict, but increases Russian leverage vis a vis the Western coalition arrayed against both Assad and Daesh in the event the tide turns against the rebels. The West may have to give up achieving the immediate removal of the former in order to achieve victory over the latter, and the latter may involve more fighting in Iraq than Syria given the Russian presence. But that is now the strategic equation that it is confronted with.

            NZ needs to think hard about an expansion or redefinition of the Taji mission in light of changing events on the ground in both Syria and Iraq. There may be room to do reconstruction work in Kurdish controlled areas of Syria and Iraq once the conflict stops or moves elsewhere. But that depends as much on Russian success as it does that of the anti-Daesh coalition, and one can only wonder if MFAT has spoken directly to the Russians about their views on the matter.

            • Grindlebottom

              Thought provoking analysis Paul. For the Western coalition to work co-operatively with Putin as you suggest, they’re going to first have to accept ongoing Russian airstrikes against all anti-Assad opposition forces, including some of those they’re supporting. He’s made no excuses for bombing all anti-Assad opposition groups, not just ISIS, labelling them all “terrorists”. And at the moment his public statements are all about describing the current Assad government as the legitimate government.

              I don’t see any basis for negotiation at present. I think Putin has all the cards.

              Interesting commentary on current situation here:

              If I was the US or Saudi government I’d still be nervous about providing any weapons to opposition groups and expecting some of them not to end up in ISIS hands.

              • Paul G. Buchanan


                Indeed, there is much to be discussed before the major players will be willing to sit down to negotiate as equals on how to end the conflict. I also think that Iran has to be at the table, and that of itself will be a thorny issue.

                It is smart for Russia to target the non-Daesh rebels first, as that forces the West’s hand on continuing to support them. The US has already given up on training “moderate” rebels, although the CIA has upped its provision of Saudi-supplied TOW anti-armour munitions to them. That can help blunt the Russian backed Syrian Army offensive but does not change the overall equation down the road. Parts of what are now Syria will not be under Damascus control no matter how the political solution is achieved or what it looks like, but a roll-back on the non-Daesh rebels solidifies its hold on the areas where Russia has the most interest.

                At the point where the non-Daesh rebels (including the al Nusra front and its various off-shoots and spin-offs) have been removed or reduced as an existential threat to Assad’s forces, then the Russians can propose terms to (really) join the fight against Daesh. The Turks are now more disposed to redouble their involvement in that effort thanks to the Ankara bombings (if only as a matter of sovereign pride), so the game is shaping up to be one in which Putin and Assad’s forces eventually work a pincer move with the Turks and West on Daesh.

                The fact that parts of the Iraqi government are now extolling the virtues of the “decisive” Russian approach suggests that they might be open to inviting Russia to join the anti-Daesh struggle in Iraq as well. I am not sure that the Russians would buy into that proposal but the very mention of such a possibility is bound to sharpen the Western focus on conflict resolution in both countries.

                The fly in the ointment are the Kurds, who the Turks are targeting as much as they are Daesh but who have been close allies of the West (the US in particular) well before the Syrian civil war and who have de facto autonomy in Kurdistan Iraq. The West will have to convince the PKK to stop attacks on Turkish targets in exchange for something tangible if the eventual pincer movement against Daesh is to be successful and a parallel or subsequent post-conflict political compromise agreed to. That is going to be a hard nut to crack.

                All of which is to say that there is a lot of jockeying for position yet to come and one can only hope that the NZ government understands that fact.

                • Grindlebottom

                  Very plausible.

                  I’m not sure who started the current round of PKK-Turkish conflict. But I would’ve thought the PKK had most the disincentive. There may be no need for the Turks to do anything more than they are doing now with the Kurds in Northern Syria than ensure they don’t lose any of the ground they already hold. I honestly can’t see Turkey agreeing to any significant expansion of the area held by the Kurds. They have such a long-standing visceral aversion to the establishment of a Kurdish state.

                  It could be enough to allow YPK to hold its existing territory and just allow an eventual Russian-Western-Iranian-Hezbollah coalition to squeeze ISIS up against that bulwark and batter them to death or back into Iraq.

                  I think NZ should stay the hell away from the whole mess. I can’t see any stability coming to Syria for years if ever. I don’t think fundamentalist Islamism can be put back in the box in countries with significant minority or dominant Islamic populations now. Secular states will have to struggle against it.

    • dukeofurl 4.2

      Paula Webstock is toooooo busy to do an evaluation of NZDF mission to Iraq.

  5. Smilin 5

    Seems Key knows SFA about anything to do with NZ that means anything to the ordinary person
    I am asking him to stop behaving like a brain damaged drug abuser and respect the intelligence of the ordinary Kiwi to see the truth about what he thinks we dont know
    Why we have to put up with his arrogant spin every time he comments to the media is very insulting to the office he holds

    • Gangnam Style 5.1

      & why do the media support him, Andrea Vance tweets a fact like that yet won’t criticise Key in print. Sycophant.

      • dukeofurl 5.1.1

        Remember she may submit a story to to her editors, but its up to them to publish all or even parts of it.
        The goalkeepers would be Bernadette Courtney, Editor in Chief or her deputy Oskar Alley.

      • Morrissey 5.1.2

        What do you expect of someone who strung along Peter Dunne, leading the poor bow-tied git to think he was in for a chance?

  6. savenz 6

    Hey it’s not about the war it is about going through the motions to be ‘part of the club’.

    Bit like TPP.

    Even if you are such a blip in the club that you might be better standing on your own feet and making more friends.

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