UK funding Kurdish bomb disposal training, says Hammond

Philip Hammond Image copyright AFP

The UK is to fund bomb disposal training for Kurdish forces in conflict with Islamic State (IS), Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

Up to 18 students from the forces, known as the Peshmerga, will be trained to counter Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

Mr Hammond said the Peshmerga's battle with IS extremists is "our fight too".

He is in Iraq to meet its new prime minister Haider al-Abadi, discuss IS and the creation of national unity.

Speaking from Erbil, in the Kurdistan region, Mr Hammond said the Peshmerga are on the front line of the battle against Isil - which IS is also known as.

"It is vital that the UK and all in the international community support them in this fight, which is our fight too," he said.

"Given the scale of the threat faced from IEDs, this assistance could prove life-saving for the Peshmerga forces and civilians, and serves as one small but vital part in the package of support being provided by the UK to Iraq to tackle the threat from Isil."

The training course lasts four weeks and will cost £230,000. It is being delivered by a UK firm in the Kurdistan region.

'Brutal group'

A team of UK troops is also helping to train Kurdish forces in northern Iraq in the use of heavy machine guns supplied by the UK.

And Royal Air Force Tornado jets based in Cyprus have been flying combat missions over Iraq since September.

Earlier, when in Baghdad, Mr Hammond said Islamic State "makes no distinction between the cultures, countries and religions it attacks".

He called IS a "brutal terrorist group unrepresentative of the people of Iraq, the Middle East, or of the Islamic faith".

"If it is left unchecked, we will face a terrorist and criminal cabal with a declared and proven determination to attack anyone who doesn't agree with its twisted ideology," he said.

"The action the UK has taken to date, including airstrikes and surveillance flights, shows the UK will play its part in standing with the Iraqi people in their fight against Isil."

UK assistance

Mr Hammond wrote on Twitter that he and Mr al-Abadi would "discuss support to government in Iraq in fight against terrorism and need for national reconciliation."

He later also said the UK was taking various steps to help the Iraqi authorities counter IS.

These, he said, consisted of the supply of military equipment and training to the Kurdish security forces, providing political support to the new Iraqi government and leading diplomatic action in the UN to disrupt flows of finance to IS.

Also, the UK has supplied £23m in humanitarian assistance to people affected by IS's "barbaric brutality".

"The formation of a new Iraqi government was a critical first step to addressing the serious security, political and humanitarian challenges facing Iraq," he added.

"It is now vital that all communities in Iraq work together to overcome those challenges.

"To do this, it will be important for interior and defence ministers to be appointed quickly and for Kurdish ministers to take up their positions in Baghdad."

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