Iraq's approval of expanded North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission 'very positive,' Sajjan says

NATO Iraq training mission could grow under new plan

NATO Iraq training mission could grow under new plan

The proposal looks to satisfy US President Donald Trump after he called on North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to do more in the Middle East. Trump's comments came after the US killed a top Iranian general by a drone strike in Iraq, sparking a regional crisis and leading to the Iraqi government voting to expel all foreign troops.

He said, "Today, allied ministers agreed in principle to enhance NATO's training mission". The alliance suspended the mission on January 6 as a result of the heightened U.S. -Iran tensions and security risks in the region. -Gen. Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport.

Yet questions abound as to what comes next, including when the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission will resume.

Sajjan suggested the mission remains suspended over security worries and political uncertainty, and that discussions are under way to determine when the training mission, which includes 250 Canadian soldiers, can resume.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said defence ministers of NATO-member states will negotiate options for a Middle Eastern deployment during an upcoming 12 February meeting in Brussels.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, will also discuss more options for the alliance in the Middle East in a bid to mollify Trump, a sharp critic who has accused some allies of being "delinquent" because they do not spend enough on defence.

The NATO plan now is to move hundreds of trainers working with the global force fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq to NATO's own mission helping to build up the Iraqi army.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has run a training mission in Iraq since late 2018 aimed at supporting Iraqi forces and preventing the re-emergence of Islamic State.

The news comes after North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence ministers agreed to expand the Iraq mission by taking on troops and activities now run by the US-led multinational coalition against the Islamic State group. But he would not speculate on the future of the roughly 200 Canadian special forces in Iraq.

The aim, he said, was to contribute more to stabilizing a region where "conflict and turmoil has caused untold suffering".

"The way we have set up our mission, we make decisions based on the current situation on the ground".

The transfer could include as many as 200 soldiers, said North Atlantic Treaty Organisation sources. He declined to provide details.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the coalition have non-combat, "train-and-advise" missions that aim to develop Iraqi security forces, but Stoltenberg declined to give further details on the beefed-up North Atlantic Treaty Organisation involvement in Iraq. More could be made public after he meets top officials in the anti-IS coalition in Munich, Germany on Friday.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation diplomats told Reuters the coalition troops could likely move across and work under a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation flag from the middle of 2020 now that the political decision has been taken. The first step would be to expand the training to three more bases in central Iraq. A second step, possibly over the summer, would see the mission's mandate changed to take over more activities now handled by the coalition.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is ready to expand its military training effort in Iraq, the alliance's top civilian official said Wednesday, but the Iraqi government is not yet ready to approve the move.

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