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The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) said that the first troops from the final contingent have arrived from Iraq following the successful completion of the training mission.

Since 2015, members of the Iraqi Security Forces are being trained to combat ISIS in Camp Taji at the joint Building Partner Capacity mission with the Australians.

NZDF deployed 45 personnel for the mission, out of which 28 have returned to New Zealand.

Returning troops are self-isolating at a facility within the Royal New Zealand Air Force base in Auckland following Covid-19 guidelines. The remaining soldiers are expected to return shortly.

New Zealand Commander Joint Forces Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said: “The reason for the return now is related to logistics.

“Now was the time we have been planning since before Christmas, but for security reasons we could not go into timing of the withdrawal of our forces from the base.”

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By GlobalData

New Zealand troops have been withdrawn ahead of the mandatory end of the mission in June, announced by the government last year.

An early redeployment was not encouraged due to rising concerns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the wider security situation in the Middle East since 2020.

Gilmour added: “Our forces have done an extremely good job since 2015 helping build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces to confront and defeat the threat posed by ISIS.

“Obviously given the current Covid-19 situation the welcome home has not been what we would have wanted, with soldiers being greeted by their family and friends.”