Britain will send more troops to Iraq to bolster IS fight

Britain will send more troops to Iraq to bolster IS fight
Coalition forces fighting the Islamic State group will receive an additional contingent of expert British troops, the UK's Defence Minister Michael Fallon said on Thursday.

2 min read
01 September, 2017
The move brings the total number of British troops in Iraq to around 600 [Getty]

Britain will send a small contingent of expert troops to help coalition forces drive out Islamic State militants in Iraq, Defence Minister Michael Fallon said on Thursday.

"We are stepping up our contribution to the fight against Daesh (IS) and fulfilling Britain's role as a key player in the global coalition," Fallon said in a statement.

"These extra troops will help support operations to bring the defeat of Daesh a step closer."

The 44 Royal Engineers are to be deployed for six months at the al-Asad airbase in Anbar Province, in western Iraq, to build infrastructure including accommodation and offices.

This brings the number of British troops at the airbase to more than 300 and the total in Iraq to around 600.

The airbase also houses hundreds of US advisers as well as Iraqi and Danish troops.

Anbar, a sprawling desert province that borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, has long been an insurgent stronghold, and IS already controlled parts of it when it swept through Iraq in 2014 to take control of roughly a third of the country.

Pro-government forces have since retaken most towns and cities in Anbar, but the militants still hold several areas along the border with Syria.

Earlier on Thursday, Iraq declared that its forces had retaken the northern city of Tal Afar and the surrounding region of Nineveh, in another major victory against the militant group.

Progress in Tal Afar was far more rapid than in Mosul, Iraq's second city which fell only after a gruelling nine-month battle that began in October 2016.

IS has also suffered major losses in Syria, where US-backed fighters have retaken more than half of the group's de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.

Iraqi authorities are now expected to launch a new offensive against IS in their stronghold of Hawija in Kirkuk province.

But the battle for Hawija is expected to be more complicated because of its location.

Oil-rich Kirkuk province is at the centre of a long dispute and a source of lingering tensions between the Iraqi federal government and the regional Kurdish authorities.

An offensive targeting Hawija could also be postponed due to a referendum on Kurdish independence planned for September 25, which Baghdad has called "untimely".

IS now controls barely 10 percent of the country, according to the US-led international coalition ranged against the militants.