NATO will expand mission in Iraq to 4,000 personnel: Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday the alliance will expand its training mission in Iraq from 500 to around 4,000 personnel.

“Today, we decided to expand NATO’s training mission in Iraq to support the Iraqi forces as they fight terrorism and ensure that ISIS does not return,” he said in a press conference after the meetings of NATO Defense Ministers.

“Training activities will now include more Iraqi security institutions, and areas beyond Baghdad,” Stoltenberg,” he added.

Stoltenberg said on Wednesday he spoke with Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi who “expressed once again the strong support and wish from the Iraqi government to have an expanded, increased NATO presence there.”

The NATO established an “advisory, training and capacity-building” mission in Iraq in October 2018, to help the Middle Eastern country quell the threat of terrorist group ISIS.

Earlier expansion plans were mainly in response to a demand by then-US President Donald Trump for NATO to do more in the Middle East.

This time, Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief and US ally who took office in May, is eager to have a greater NATO presence in the country at a time of rising insecurity, diplomats told Reuters.

A rocket attack on US-led forces in northern Iraq killed a civilian contractor on Monday and injured a US service member, in the deadliest such incident in almost a year.

Paramilitary groups aligned with Iran in Iraq and Yemen have launched attacks against the United States and its Arab allies in recent weeks, including a drone attack on a Saudi airport and a rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The NATO mission, involving allies including Britain, Turkey and Denmark and led by a Danish commander, is seen as more acceptable to Iraqis than a US training force, diplomats told Reuters.

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