Wellington: New Zealand today said it would not send combat troops to Iraq to directly fight the Islamic State group but it could send military personnel to help train Iraqi forces behind the front lines.
Prime Minister John Key made the comments during a speech on national security in which he addressed the Pacific Island nation's response to the threat posed by the extremist group. He said government agencies have a watch list of between 30 and 40 New Zealanders who are engaged in extremist behavior.
He said some have traveled to Syria to participate in fighting, others have tried but have had their passports canceled, while others are funding terrorism. He said a further 30 to 40 people who weren't on the watch list needed further investigation.
Key also announced several proposed domestic measures aimed at boosting security.
They included increasing the amount of time the government could cancel a passport on national security grounds from one year to three; new powers to temporarily suspend passports; and broader surveillance powers as well as increased funding for the country's domestic intelligence agency.
Key said New Zealand has been considered relatively safe from extremist threats in the past.
"It gives me no pleasure to tell you that is changing," he said.
Defense Minister Gerry Brownlee told reporters today that three military planners had left for the Middle East and up to seven more would join them to determine whether New Zealand had a role to play in helping Iraqi forces battle extremists.
He said any role would be dependent on an invitation from the Iraqi government. He said New Zealand was also talking to neighboring Australia about how it could help them. New Zealand's international response has been more cautious than that of Australia.
Australia has deployed six jet fighters which are flying combat missions against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq. And it has said it will soon deploy 200 special forces troops into Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi security forces.
New Zealand last month was one of five nations to win elections for coveted seats on the UN Security Council.