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NATO agrees to expand training mission in Iraq

By Mohammad Ghazal - Feb 12,2020 - Last updated at Feb 12,2020

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference after a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday (JT photo)

BRUSSELS — NATO defence ministers agreed on Wednesday to expand the transatlantic alliance’s training mission in Iraq in response to US President Donald Trump's call for more involvement by the alliance in the Middle East.

“Allied ministers had reaffirmed their support to Iraq and agreed in principle to enhance NATO's training mission,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in a press conference at NATO’s headquarters on Wednesday.

The beefed-up training in Iraq will consist of taking on some of the current training activities by the US-led Global Coalition against Daesh, Stoltenberg said, adding  “ministers also agreed to explore what more could be done, beyond this first step”.

In 2018, NATO agreed to start a training mission in Iraq involving around 500 troops to help build and support Iraq’s armed forces to combat extremist groups, but the NATO operations were suspended in January after a missile strike by the US resulted in the killing of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad Airport.  The Iraqi government and parliament demanded that all foreign troops leave its territory.

At the presser, he said any NATO activities in Iraq will be in direct consultation and coordination with the Iraqi government.

“NATO is in Iraq upon an invitation from Baghdad and we will only stay there as long as we are welcomed because NATO fully respects Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and everything we do will be in close consultation with the Iraqi government,” he said.

“We are already in Iraq today and we are in consultation on the possibility of scaling up and doing more… all allies supported the decision to do more in Iraq,” said Stoltenberg, adding that there is close coordination and consultation with the global coalition.

In January, Trump called on the alliance to “become more involved in the Middle East".

Stoltenberg added that NATO’s objective was to increase the capacity of the Iraqi armed forces “so that they no longer require our support”.

“Together we are committed to fighting terrorism and ensure that Daesh does not come back,” he said.

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