NATO has agreed “in principle” to send additional personnel to Iraq, potentially freeing up the U.S. to bring some of its training personnel home, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Feb. 13.
NATO member states agreed to send more train, advise, and assist personnel to the country, though Esper would not identify the nations. U.S. officials have been pressing the alliance to carry more of the load, especially following rising tensions in the region. In early January, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani, which in turn prompted a non-binding vote in the Iraqi Parliament to kick U.S. forces out.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he has “started the process” of increasing the alliance’s presence in the country, stressing that it is at the invitation of the Iraqi government.
“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,” Stoltenberg said. “And we will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcomed.”
Stoltenberg said he will meet Feb. 14 with the anti-ISIS coalition to discuss “whether we can change some of the responsibilities between the coalition and NATO.”
Esper said he is pressing NATO to “broaden” its role in the Middle East. Specifically, he wants the alliance to deploy more air defenses and other capabilities to the region.