“We have just agreed to start planning for a NATO training mission in Iraq,” Stoltenberg told media Wednesday, noting that the request came from the government of Iraq. “Establishing a mission will make the current training efforts more sustainable. It will benefit from better resourcing and a well-established process.”
However, he stressed that the alliance is “planning to scale up NATO’s presence, but we are not planning for a combat mission.”
In the past, NATO has had a hand in training Iraqi forces, but in a less permanent manner. The alliance sends “mobile training teams” — groups who visit for a limited period of time for specific training — and some countries also invite Iraqi officers to their nations for training.
But Stoltenberg pledged to go to a “a more substantive concept, which is based on trainers in Iraq, where we are going to train the trainers and help them to build defense education, to build some defense schools and defense academies.”
The alliance trainers will likely focus in areas such as counter-IED, military medicine and logistics, although the exact details of that — along with the size of the training force — will be decided in the coming months.
Stoltenberg also said he would welcome any non-NATO partner nations who wish to help out with the NATO training, potentially opening the door to participation from countries such as Georgia.
“We can make a big impact with our trainers and advisers in full coordination with the Iraqi government, the global coalition and other actors, such as the U.N. and [European Union].”
Speaking after Stoltenberg, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said he welcomed the news.
“We believe it is in NATO’s best interests that we project stability” in the region, Mattis said, adding that this training will help give the government of Iraq the “capabilities they believe they need” to prevent another Islamic State group from rising in the future.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.