Yorkshire Regiment soldiers in Iraq

British soldiers are in Iraq and working close to the front line of the fight between the Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish fighters, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

A “small specialist team” said to be from the Yorkshire Regiment is based near the Kurdish capital of Erbil in northern Iraq after their deployment was approved by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, a spokeswoman confirmed.

They are in the war-torn region training peshmerga forces in the use of heavy machine guns the UK supplied to them in September.

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The Sunday Times reported that the soldiers were from the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, which is based in Cyprus.

An MoD spokeswoman said: “The Government has previously made clear its intention to provide training to the Peshmerga as part of the continued effort to assist in the fight against Isil (IS).

“The Defence Secretary has approved the deployment of a small specialist team of non-combat Army trainers which is now in the Erbil area providing instruction on operating, employing and maintaining the heavy machine guns that were gifted by the UK last month.”

British troops invaded Iraq in March 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The last combat troops with Operation Telic, as it was called, left in April 2009, with a small number staying on to train Iraqi forces until 2011.

RAF Tornado fighter-bombers have been taking part in US-led bombing raids on IS, also known as Isil or Isis, for a fortnight. But there is strong resistance among politicians to any ground troop involvement in fighting against the Islamist group, which controls a vast swathe of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.