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HELSINKI — Sweden formally extended its commitment to training Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq to fight the Islamic State until the end of 2016. Funding is in place to continue training programs for Kurdish troops in Iraq over the next 14 months. The training program is being run by a team of 35 specialists drawn from elite combat units within the Swedish Army.

"We are committed to this work. The unit’s number may be small, but the focus should not be on numbers. This is a very capable, competent and highly qualified unit," said Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist.

The unit, which comprises operational mentoring and liaison teams, became operational in Iraq in August. The training is reported to be concentrated on operations and combat discipline, coordinated actions, weapons training and stealth reconnaissance skills.

The Swedish initiative forms part of the American-led coalition forces’ operations against IS in Iraq. Sweden is also looking at increasing humanitarian aid to Kurdish areas in northern Iraq worst affected by ISIL attacks.

Sweden signaled its intent to contribute to the coalition effort in August 2014 when ISIL combatants attacked Kurdish-held territories and captured three towns in northern Iraq close to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.

The Swedish Army’s contribution of a specialist training unit to the American-led effort directly reflects the Swedish government’s desire to allocate military resources to both help to fight and counter ISIL’s influence in the Middle East, and the threat posed by ISIL fighters heading back to Sweden and Scandinavia.

Sweden continues to implement new security measures to both deter radicalized Islamic Swedish nationals and non-national residents from leaving the country to join ISIL. National security and military intelligence agencies are being given broader powers of surveillance to monitor the activities of suspected ISIL combatants returning to Sweden.

The Swedish Ministry of Justice is also examining a proposal to criminalize certain actions, such as the booking of travel tickets to the Middle East, in cases where a proven link can be established between actual trips and joining extremist Islamic groups such as ISIL.

Email: godwyer@defensenews.com

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