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

Elias Hubbard
February 14, 2020

The alliance suspended the mission on January 6 as a result of the heightened U.S. -Iran tensions and security risks in the region.

"As you know, we from the beginning stated that we wanted a resumption of the mission as quickly as possible because we felt that was extremely important", Sajjan told The Canadian Press in an interview from Brussels. The mission was suspended due to security concerns after Soleimani's death, with some Canadian troops moved to neighbouring Kuwait.

NATO defense ministers agreed on Wednesday to expand the Western alliance's training mission in Iraq, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, responding to a demand by U.S. President Donald Trump for NATO to do more in the Middle East.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the alliance's Iraq mission would restart "as soon as possible" but said there had been no decision on how many troops would be re-assigned from the USA -led coalition.

Although NATO allies have long contributed to USA military efforts against extremists in Iraq, they have been more reluctant to get drawn into the US campaign to counter Iran. But he would not speculate on the future of the roughly 200 Canadian special forces in Iraq.

Two anonymous diplomats, however, told Reuters that an increase to 2,000 for the force might come not via new deployments, but rather through a reassignment of troops now operating as part of the US-led coalition - a structure separate from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The minister did suggest, however, that the size and scope of Canada's overall efforts in Iraq will remain largely unchanged. Yet heading into the 2020 election, he has sent more than 15,000 American troops to the Mideast since May to pressure Iran. "We are going to do it step-wise", Stoltenberg said Thursday. The two issues have collided in Iraq, where the US last month killed Iran's most powerful general, Qassem Suleimani.

Stoltenberg declined to comment Wednesday on how much bigger the operation may become, saying the defense ministers took a decision "in principle" and "then we will continue to work on the details and the numbers and exactly what kinds of activities". More could be made public after he meets top officials in the anti-IS coalition in Munich, Germany on Friday.

"We are going to look at what we can do beyond the current presence of troops, but of course, we do that in close coordination with the Iraq government", he said. The first step would be to expand the training at three bases in central Iraq. "In the first instance, this will consist of taking on some of the global coalition's current training activities".

Esper said the ministers have "asked NATO's military leaders to consider what more the alliance could do to assist the Iraqi security forces".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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