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NATO chief signals new training mission in Iraq

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that defense ministers will likely begin planning for a training mission in Iraq when they meet in Belgium this week.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, Stoltenberg said the ministers saw a need for more training of Iraqi forces as operations in the country move from the fight against Islamic State to building local capacity. The ministers will discuss NATO’s role, in coordination with the Iraqi government, he said.

A final decision is expected in July.

NATO defense ministers are meeting fro February 13-15 to discuss modernizing the bloc’s command structure, protection of the Atlantic communication lines, and rapid deployment of forces across Europe, among other topics.

The United States has urged NATO to take a bigger role in Iraq post-ISIS and expand its training of Iraqi security forces.

NATO trained more than 15,000 Iraqi police officers during its prior training mission from 2004-2011. The bloc agreed in July 2015 to provide additional capacity measures, including explosives and demining training and civil military planning, and agreed in 2016 to train and advise Iraqi security forces. In-country activities began in January 2017 following a course for Iraqi officers in Jordan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has asked that future training for Iraqi forces take place in Iraq.

Last month U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis called for a formal NATO mission in Iraq and a semi-permanent or permanent training command, Reuters reported.

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