(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
BRUSSELS - NATO defence ministers agreed on Thursday a bigger 'train-and-advise' mission in Iraq after a US call for the alliance to help stabilise the country after three years of war against Islamic State.
Part of a broader international effort to help rebuild Iraq as combat operations wind down, the NATO military alliance will train Iraqi soldiers as they clear unexploded remnants of war left behind by ISIS, but will not provide troops for combat.
"We will go to a consistent mission in Iraq," US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told a news conference, after formally requesting NATO involvement last month in a letter to allies.
Mattis said the NATO mission would train Iraqis to "protect their people against an uprising of another type of terrorism organisation," as the United States seeks to avoid a repeat of its 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and the subsequent rise of ISIS.
The alliance must now set the scope of the mission with the aim of launching it in July at a NATO summit set to be attended by US President Donald Trump.
NATO already has a small training presence in Baghdad but Trump has insisted the alliance do more to counter militants in Iraq, warning of more attacks in European cities if it did not.
European allies have long been reluctant, fearing another open-ended assignment after more than a decade in Afghanistan. Talks with Turkey have been complicated by a dispute between Ankara and Washington in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, diplomats said.
But all allies now back a larger, formal mission, diplomats said, after a personal plea from Mattis on Thursday and assurances that their military trainers would be out of harm's way. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent a letter requesting NATO help this week, they said.