North Atlantic Treaty Organisation plans expanded training mission in Iraq

Cheryl Sanders
February 14, 2020

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the alliance's Iraq mission would restart "as soon as possible" but said there had been no decision on how many troops would be re-assigned from the USA -led coalition.

Trump stoked speculation about a bigger North Atlantic Treaty Organisation footprint in the Middle East a month ago after Iran carried out attacks in Iraq on two bases used by American troops as retaliation for a US airstrike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

While the plan now is to move hundreds of trainers working with the US -led coalition fighting ISIL over to the Canadian-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission, Stoltenberg and Sajjan were extremely vague on details as discussions among the various parties are still ongoing.

Sajjan suggested the mission remains suspended over security worries and political uncertainty, and that discussions are under way to determine when the training mission, which includes 250 Canadian soldiers, can resume.

Unlike the global coalition, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops are not involved in combat operations in Iraq.

NATO's decision to expand its mission follows calls from U.S. President Donald Trump for the military alliance to do more in the Middle East.

Sajjan did indicate that a group of military engineers who have been training Iraqi forces on how to disarm explosives through the US -led coalition could be rolled into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission.

The aim, he said, was to contribute more to stabilizing a region where "conflict and turmoil has caused untold suffering". "So even if we were to go down with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation taking on greater capacity-building roles, the needs are still the same". He declined to give more details. "In the first instance, this will consist of taking on some of the global coalition's current training activities".

Two anonymous diplomats, however, told Reuters that an increase to 2,000 for the force might come not via new deployments, but rather through a reassignment of troops now operating as part of the US-led coalition - a structure separate from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. He said more would be known once he meets with top officials in the anti-IS coalition in Munich, Germany on Friday.

However, another North Atlantic Treaty Organisation official warned against hoping for a concrete proposal at Wednesday's talks, saying discussions would focus on "functions not figures"- what the transferred troops would do rather than how many of them would move, said the official.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation diplomats told Reuters the coalition troops could likely move across and work under a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation flag from the middle of 2020 now that the political decision has been taken. The first step would be to expand the training at three bases in central Iraq.

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