NZDF links in the Iraq “kill chain.”

When discussing military activities we often hear about the “tip of the spear.” The analogy is a bit overdrawn but points to the fact that the killing head is a relatively small part of the enterprise, and there is not only a long logistical line behind it but also elements of will, volition, intelligence, targeting and discipline in the use of the weapon.

In the modern military vernacular, the process behind the application of lethal kinetic force is known as the “kill chain.” It is worth disaggregating its core elements, starting from the spear tip.

Combat roles are those involving the direct application of force. This involves those pulling triggers on the enemy: infantry, armour, artillery, naval gunnery, tactical and strategic air strikes, special operations reconnaissance, forward air control and hunt and destroy missions. All of these roles involve engaging the enemy by kinetic means.

Combat support roles are those that directly facilitate the application of force. Intelligence collection and analysis, including that which leads to the preparation of target “packages” (usually consisting of a small array of priority and alternative targets and the suggestions about preferred kinetic means to be employed) are key combat-support roles. So are armorers. transporters and tankers providing the weapons, food, equipment and fuel to be deployed in theatre. Likewise, military mentors serving in “advise and assist” roles where they go into the field with foreign partner units are key combat-support roles that often morph into combat roles in the heat of battle. The same applies to combat search-and-rescue units. The key distinction from combat roles is that while they are not designed for or tasked with immediate involvement in the application of force, they are essential to doing so and are in close proximity to or overlapped with those who do. They are the eyes, ears, mind and body that inform the moment when the spear is thrown or trigger is pulled.

Non-combat roles are those that are not involved in the application of force on the enemy. These can be training units operating “behind the wire” in secure installations, mess hall and logistical services away from conflict zones, non-combat search-and-rescue, recruiting and foreign liaison duties, military diplomacy, unarmed humanitarian operations, military band and parade duties and other “meet and greet” PR exercises. Although all helpful to combat missions in an indirect way, none of these roles are absolutely required for successful completion of them. That is what differentiates non-combat from combat-support roles.

Many readers may find all of this obvious and not worth belabouring. But I do so because in New Zealand the  distinction between these roles appears to have been overlooked in official staments about what the NZDF is doing in Iraq (and previously in Afghanistan). From the moment NZDF troops were committed to the fight against Daesh in Iraq in May 2015, the government and military command have defined the mission as a “non-combat” training role. But there appears to be more to that mission that what has been acknowledged, and the NZDF has either been disingenuous or has deliberately misled the public on the true nature of it.

It was only last year that the National government admitted that NZDF personnel were engaged in  “advise and assist” roles and were operating on bases other than Camp Taji, the main training facility north of Baghdad. To this day its successor has refused comment on the nature of NZDF operations outside the training role (now into its fourth year). More tellingly, especially in view of the fact that there are credible reports of NZDF and civilian intelligence personnel being involved in the collection and analysis of actionable tactical intelligence at forward bases in northern Iraq and elsewhere in the regional theatre as well as NZSAS involvement in the fight for Mosul and attendant operations, both the former and the present government continue to maintain the line that the NZDF mission in Iraq is of a non-combat nature.

Not only does that dichotomise and oversimplify what are in fact a range of overlapping military operations, it serves as a semantic trick that, by using a very narrow definition of “combat” and a very broad definition of “non-combat,” reduces the former to only those who pull triggers and the latter to everyone else in uniform. Since combat-support roles are the largest part of the “kill chain,” this false dichotomy hides the very real possibility that the NZDF is in fact very actively involved in and around combat operations in northern Iraq (and perhaps Syria). Much like what eventuated in Afghanistan, it seems that the NZDF has, for its own reasons, decided to hide or misconstrue the multifaceted  nature of the deployment in Iraq and successive governments have gone along with the deception.

I am not sure why this is so.  Other than the Greens and some pacifists in Labour, no political party is going to oppose what the NZDF are doing in Iraq because the general consensus amongst the political elite and public is that the fight against Daesh is just. New Zealand is fulfilling an international obligation by joining in that fight (remember that “price of the club” remark made a few years ago by a senior decision-maker), and its soldiers (all volunteers) gain experience of real battlefield conditions and joint force operational integration with foreign military partners. Daesh already knows about the NZDF role in the so-called “Crusader Coalition” and has called for attacks on NZ soil. So on moral-ethical as well as practical grounds, it would seem that it is safe for the NZDF to be honest about what it is doing abroad.

Of course, as I wrote in a previous post, denying involvement in combat-support and combat roles allows the government and NZDF some measure of plausible deniability in the event that thing go wrong. But if that is the case, then why allow the mission in Iraq to broaden into roles that might incur that chance? Beyond what has been reported about NZDF activities in Iraq in the foreign (including allied military) press, circumstantial evidence at home indicates that the NZDF brass are very deliberate in their concealment of the facts on the ground. How else to explain the extraordinary secrecy demanded of deployed troops even upon their return, to include not telling their families of basic aspects of the deployment, when other members of the anti-Daesh coalition allow their troops to speak freely about non-sensitive operational matters?

A basic tenet of leadership is that responsibility for taskings is assumed by those making decisions. Why has the NZDF decided to engage in combat-support (and likely combat) operations but deny responsibility via the misleading claims about the NZDF non-combat role? Is that not a dereliction of duty and an abdication of command responsibility? Evidence is mounting that NZDF personnel are being put in or near harm’s way and yet the NZDF leadership insist that they are not. Why the continued NZDF  adherence to this ruse, and why does the new Labour government continue to tolerate it?

One thing is certain whether the NZDF and Labour government care to admit it (and with apologies for the mixed analogies): when it comes to the kill chain being used on Daesh in Iraq, the NZDF link runs the full length of the spear, from throw to catch.

4 thoughts on “NZDF links in the Iraq “kill chain.”

  1. Accountability is something that the current generation of politicians are most concerned about, they don’t want any for themselves.

  2. A timely and most informative article which exposes the collusion and duplicity of the NZDF in the USA coalition.What is omited is however that the USA initially trained the angry unemployed Sunni militia as a result of Sadam Hussein’s downfall and Hilary Clinton and General Petraeus were involved starting around 2011 in this iniquitous activity with these militia that morphed rapidly into Daesh.It comes as no surprise to fund that the USA has been specifically involved in sheltering Daesh as in Mosul,Iraq and Deir ez Zur in Syria and even providing transport for their escape from Syria’s allies,ans Iraqi military & PMU forces. What an irony if not scandal that our NZDF in Taji are with the USA coalition in which fuels Daesh to fight the very soldiers the NZDF is training. Add into this outrageous mix the fact that NZDF is also now training Syrian rebel forces which include al Nusrah (AKA al Qaeda). So far the Labour Govt has turned a blind eye but this can’t continue

  3. Since the nineteen sixties New Zealand governments have only reluctantly engaged in US wars abroad, and for the past two decades they have been reluctant to even admit their involvement. “Governments” means those comprising National, Labour and New Zealand First and possibly the Greens. The subterfuge is not specific to any particular political party or tendency. Rather it is the position of the colonial regime taken as a whole, and it is quite different to the way in which other regimes (for example the United States itself) disclose military actions to their public. The reason for the regime’s reluctance to disclose is that the New Zealand public correctly see these wars as doing nothing to further New Zealand’s national interests, yet, at the same time, they are necessitated by the logic of colonialism and are important to the interests of the regime itself. Pablo and others may want New Zealand governments to be open with their public, but I don’t see that as being possible in the present context, and we will just have to get used to the idea that New Zealand governments, whether National, Labour or New Zealand First, will not and cannot tell us the truth about these affairs.

  4. the situation is as always. In the 1960s we had only 11 Canberra’s so there was the choice of either leaving them at Ohakea, using them with British and Austrlain forces in confrontation patrols against Indonesian forc=es and associates ilnfiltration or using them with the RAAF Canberras in Vietnam. It is partly as issue of budgets and logistics and also ethics, in that the NZ CDS did all to restrict the NZ SAS being used in cross border strikes into Indonesian territory with Britsh and Australian SAS and the NZ Cabinet majority was against using the Canberras in Vietnam and the rreplacement Skyhawks supplied by the US were more intended for anti shipping than ground attack.
    Recent deployment In relation to reconstruction security issues in Iraq/ Afghanistan have been announced as dual purpose – reconstruction work, training which allowed support for trained local troops on operational patrols. In 1991 NZ would have deployed the A-4s to the first gulf war if invited to send air force, we expected an invitation and to a degree we woud probably have provided naval NGS if we had two naval GP guns available. Certainly there were RNZN officers who wanted RNZN frigates deployed to vietnam to provide support gunfire n support of land operations and anti inflitration patrols even though the RNZN image and support would obviosly have been damaged as seen in 1968. I have been told first hand by later RNZN Captains that they wanted the RNZN deployed despite thc act hey had only 2/ 4.5s whike the RAN Darings had 6 guns and apparently Westmorland the poorly performing mid ranker General told Min Thompson there was no point she preferred a full Battallion.Richard Mayson the barrister who was a major troublemaker and stirrer in the KIrk govt, avoids the fact no army or intelligence service can really distinguish, very accurately or ayear later who is Mau Mau, Isis,or Hamas or IRA. RM

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