NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to media in Brussels on Thursday. Photo: John Thys/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – NATO plans to establish a permanent training mission in Iraq to help the country's forces professionalize. The head of the defence alliance confirmed the mission was requested by the Iraqi government and the global-anti ISIS coalition.
Establishing “specialized military academies and schools,” NATO will “help the Iraqi forces become increasingly professional,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday.
NATO began a small training program in Iraq last year and has had mobile teams operating in the country for short periods of time or brings Iraqi forces to member nations for training.
“The idea now is to go from this concept to a more substantive concept, which is based on trainers in Iraq, where we are going to train the trainers and help them to build a defence education, or to build some defence schools and defense academies,” Stoltenberg explained.
The new mission will make the existing training program “more sustainable,” opening it up to better resourcing and facilitating contributions from allied nations, he added, though noted that the details were still to be decided.
The new mission marks a NATO commitment to Iraq. “We will scale up,” Stoltenberg said, moving towards a “more permanent training mission.”
NATO made the decision after lessons learned from Afghanistan and previously in Iraq, Stoltenberg said, adding “it’s dangerous to leave too early, because then we may be forced back in combat operations. So, we should not stay longer than necessary, but we should stay as long as it is needed…”
“We can make a big impact with our trainers and advisers,” he said.
The US-led global anti-ISIS coalition has shifted its training in Iraq to primarily policing and border security in order to prevent a resurgence of any extremist group after the military defeat of ISIS.
It is not immediately clear if the Peshmerga will benefit from the new NATO mission. The United States, United Kingdom, and Germany are coordinating with the Peshmerga on a reform plan to help the Kurdish force become a professional, unified army.
Abadi did not mention the NATO announcement in a press conference in Baghdad on Thursday. He touched on the Iraqi reconstruction conference that was held this week and explained that funds pledged for projects would not be split proportionately with the Kurdistan Region as a whole, but rather on a project-by-project basis in areas.
Abadi is attending the Munich Security Conference this weekend, along with officials from in the Kurdistan Region led by PM Nechirvan Barzani.