The Iraqi government has given NATO the green light to stay in the country, the alliances chief said Thursday, weeks after Iraq demanded foreign forces leave the country over the U.S. killing of Irans top general near the Baghdad airport.
Defense ministers of NATO Allies approved yesterday at a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, a plan to move hundreds of trainers working with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in Iraq to NATOs mission of helping to build up the Iraqi army to the point that it will be able to maintain stability and security in the country on its own.
“The government of Iraq has confirmed to us their desire for continuation of the NATO training, advising and capacity-building activities for the Iraqi armed forces,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference after the NATO ministerial session on Feb. 13, “We will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcomed.”
NATOs activities carried out in Iraq will be closely consulted with the Iraqi government and coordinated with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Stoltenberg said.
The plan is only the first step in supporting Iraq, and the Allies will explore further what else NATO can do. The goal is to defeat ISIS and ensure that it will not return.
The Canada-led NATO training mission in Iraq was launched in 2018 but suspended last month after a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad Airport killed the Iranian regimes top military official, Qassem Soleimani. Subsequently, Iraqs Parliament demanded that foreign troops leave. President Donald Trump asked NATO on Jan. 8 to become more involved with the Middle East after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases hosting U.S. troops the day before.
The NATO mission currently involves around 500 troops. There are no details on the number of troops or types of training activities that will be shifted over from the Global Coalitions training force. The shift of training operations from the Global Coalition to NATO mission was not supposed to increase the number of troops involved.