NATO to expand Iraq’s mission to about 4,000 personnel

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that the alliance is deciding to expand a NATO training mission in Iraq from 500 to about 4,000 personnel, while defense ministers in the member states are making a final decision on NATO’s 9,600 aid mission in Afghanistan.

The increase in NATO’s Iraq mission was aimed at strengthening the country’s military because it appears to be limiting the return of the Islamic State (IS) group, Stoltenberg said.

“The size of our assignment will increase from 500 employees to about 4,000,” Stoltenberg said, adding that the increases would be “incremental”.

“Training activities will now include more Iraqi security institutions and areas outside Baghdad.”

Stoltenberg insisted that the mission be carried out “at the request of the Iraqi government”.

“This is being done with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

No decision while Biden reviews Trump’s Afghanistan deal

Although the fate of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan was high on Thursday’s agenda, there was no decision on whether or when to withdraw from Afghanistan.

After two decades of Western military intervention and hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, NATO countries are reluctant to meet a deadline of 1 May and risk undermining progress towards democracy when a peace process stops.

US President Joe Biden is reviewing his predecessor’s deal with the Taliban 2020, which includes a May 1 deadline for a final withdrawal of US troops. In Washington, calls are mounting for the United States to delay the final withdrawal or renegotiate the deal to allow the presence of a smaller, intelligence-based US force.

“The problem is that we are in a situation where we have a date – May 1 – approaching and so far we have seen that the peace talks are fragile,” said Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg insisted that the Taliban must live up to commitments under the deal with the United States, including making progress in peace talks with Kabul, reducing violence and cutting ties with “international terrorist groups”.

“NATO’s goal is to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who would attack our home countries,” he said.

( Jowharwith AFP, AP and REUTERS)