The Iraqi government has given NATO the green light to stay in the country, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, weeks after Iraq demanded that foreign forces leave over the U.S. killing of Iran’s top general at Baghdad airport.
“The government of Iraq has confirmed to us their desire for a continuation of the NATO training, advising and capacity building activities for the Iraqi armed forces,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels during a meeting of allied defense ministers.
“We will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcome,” he added.
NATO’s Canada-led training mission was launched in 2018 and involves around 500 troops. It was suspended last month after the U.S. drone strike. The plan now is to move hundreds of trainers working with the international force fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq over to that mission.
Unlike the international coalition, NATO’s training effort does not involve combat operations.
Stoltenberg provided no details about how many troops might be added to the training force or what new activities they might eventually undertake, but more could be made public after he meets top officials in the anti-IS coalition in Munich, Germany on Friday.
Officials have said that “a couple of hundred” troops would change roles. 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 currently handled by the coalition.
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The move is basically a re-branding exercise meant to satisfy U.S. President Donald Trump's demand that NATO do more in the Middle East region. No additional troops are to be deployed to the region.