Sweden has committed to sending up to 120 troops to Iraq to help train Iraqi and Kurdish fighters in the battle against the Islamic State group. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said the first group of soldiers will be ready to deploy in June and will be under U.S. command.
"In the first stage 35 soldiers will take part in the mission but the number can rise to 120," Wallström told Swedish news agency TT. "Increased military support is needed now."
She said that Swedish troops will provide "military advice and training ... not combat units" and will focus on Kurdish peshmerga forces. "We're responding to a request from the Iraqi government. ... They can need everything from weapons training to minesweeping," Wallström said.
A U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group -- which is also known as ISIS or ISIL -- has been in place since August and has carried out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Sweden first announced that it would join the coalition in January, offering just 20 troops to train peshmerga fighters in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
However, the move has been controversial in Sweden, with one terrorism expert suggesting that it could raise the threat level at home.
“It could motivate someone to carry out violent acts to protest,” said Thomas Hegghammer, a terror expert at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, who spoke with TT earlier this year. “There will be more attacks. We can already see a marked increase.”
Swedish intelligence officials say that more than 100 Swedes have gone to the Middle East to fight for ISIS. New legislation to stop people leaving Sweden to join ISIS is being drafted by the government. It would allow police to confiscate passports and monitor people of interest.
Anders Thornberg, head of the Swedish intelligence service Säpo, said earlier this month that police would be able to take passports “so that a person cannot leave Sweden.”