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Iraq OKs Resumption of NATO Training Effort

Iraq OKs Resumption of NATO Training Effort

Thursday, 13 February, 2020 - 14:30
US Secretary for Defense Mark Esper, third right, listens to the opening address as he attends a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Asharq Al-Awsat

The Iraqi government has given NATO the green light to stay in the country, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, weeks after Iraq demanded that foreign forces leave over the US killing of Iran´s top general at Baghdad airport.

"The government of Iraq has confirmed to us their desire for a continuation of the NATO training, advising and capacity building activities for the Iraqi armed forces," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels during a meeting of allied defense ministers.

"We will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcome," he added.

NATO defense ministers agreed Wednesday to expand the alliance's training mission in Iraq, responding to US President Donald Trump's demand for more action from allies in the Middle East.

"Allied Defense Ministers have agreed in principle to enhance NATO´s training mission in Iraq in close cooperation & coordination with the Iraqi government," Stoltenberg tweeted on Wednesday. "In the first instance, this will consist of taking on some of the global coalition's current training activities."

NATO´s Canada-led training mission was launched in 2018 and involves around 500 troops. It was suspended last month after the US drone strike. The plan now is to move hundreds of trainers working with the international force fighting the ISIS group in Iraq over to that mission.

Unlike the international coalition, NATO´s training effort does not involve combat operations.

Stoltenberg provided no details about how many troops might be added to the training force or what new activities they might eventually undertake, but more could be made public after he meets top officials in the anti-ISIS coalition in Munich, Germany on Friday.

Officials have said that "a couple of hundred" troops would change roles. The first step would be to expand the training to three more bases in central Iraq. A second step, possibly over the summer, would see the mission´s mandate changed to take over more activities currently handled by the coalition.

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