NATO to consider larger Iraq training mission
BRUSSELS: The United States is renewing pressure on its European NATO allies to establish a long-term train-and-advise mission in Iraq, diplomats said, reviving a divisive issue for an alliance wary after a decade in Afghanistan.
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sent a letter to NATO headquarters in January calling for a formal NATO mission to Iraq with a semi-permanent or permanent command to train Iraqi forces, according to five senior NATO diplomats.
After a three-year war with Islamic State, Washington wants to ensure the militants do not re-emerge. While NATO does have trainers in Iraq already, they number less than 20. NATO defence ministers are expected to discuss the US request in Brussels next week, with a possible decision at a summit in July.
In his letter, Mattis left many details open but suggested developing military academies and a military doctrine for the Iraqi defence ministry, diplomats said. Other ideas cited by diplomats include bomb disposal training, maintenance of Soviet-era vehicles and medical training.
"The United States is pushing hard for a NATO role in Iraq, not in a combat role, but for a long-term assignment," said one senior NATO diplomat on condition of anonymity.
"This looks suspiciously like another Afghanistan," the diplomat said, referring to the long-running conflict where NATO is funding and training Afghan forces. "Few allies want that."Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael declined to discuss whether Mattis had sent a letter to NATO but said: "The administration continues to look for ways allies can do more to counter terrorist organizations."
A NATO official said that the alliance is "looking into how we can step-up our training efforts". NATO defence chiefs will provide ministers with a range of options for an Iraq mission, while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has discussed the issue with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who supports a mission, diplomats said.