NATO Iraq training mission to be expanded


NATO defence ministers agreed to expand the Western alliance’s training mission in Iraq, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, responding to a demand by US President Donald Trump to do more in the Middle East.

NATO will take over some training activities carried out by the US-led coalition against Islamic State, Stoltenberg said, meaning the decision does not require more Western troops in Iraq but would be with the consent of the Iraqi government.

“Allied ministers agreed in principle to enhance NATO’s training mission,” Stoltenberg told a news conference. “In the first instance, this will consist of taking on some of the global coalition’s current training activities.”

NATO and the coalition have non-combat, “train-and-advise” missions that aim to develop Iraqi security forces. Both are suspended over regional stability fears after a US drone strike killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad on January 3.

After the killing, Trump called on NATO to do more in the Middle East, without specifying.

Stoltenberg said the NATO Iraq mission would restart as soon as possible. He said there had been no decision on how many troops would be re-assigned from the US-led coalition.

NATO diplomats told Reuters coalition troops could likely move across and work under the NATO flag from the middle of 2020 now the political decision has been taken.

NATO ministers, including US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, will discuss options for the alliance in the Middle East in a bid to mollify Trump, a sharp critic who accused some allies of being “delinquent” because they do not spend enough on defence.

“Ministers agreed to explore what more we can do beyond this first step,” Stoltenberg said.

Many allies refuse to join the US maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

Eastern European allies, fearful of Russia since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, are concerned about shifting resources to the Middle East or for NATO to be a way for the US to exit the region, diplomats said.