NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO was ready to expand its military training efforts in Iraq, but the Iraqi government had not yet approved the move.

The NATO-led NATO training mission in Iraq was launched in 2018, but was suspended last month after a U.S. missile attack on Baghdad airport killed the Iranian regime’s top military official, Qassem Soleimani, and the Iraqi parliament demanded the departure of foreign troops. President Donald Trump urged NATO on January 8 to step up its engagement with the Middle East after Iran fired rockets at Iraqi bases the day before, where US troops were stationed.

The NATO plan now provides for hundreds of trainers working with the Global Coalition to Combat IS in Iraq to join NATO’s mission in building the Iraqi army until it is able to achieve stability and stability Maintain country security alone. No additional NATO personnel would be deployed in the troubled country.

The NATO Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels on February 12 agreed that this plan is only the first step in support of Iraq and that the legislature will continue to investigate what else NATO can do. The goal is to defeat ISIS and ensure that it doesn’t return.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference after the meeting of NATO Defense Ministers on February 12, 2020 at the headquarters in Brussels. (Francois Lenoir / Reuters)

“First and foremost, this will be to take over some of the current coalition training activities. The ministers also agreed to consider what else we can do, ”said Stoltenberg at a press conference.

Stoltenberg said that all NATO activities would be closely coordinated with the Iraqi government and that he would remain in close contact with the country’s leaders. “NATO is in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And we will only stay in Iraq for as long as we are welcome, ”he said. When asked why there was no formal approval from the Iraqi government to approve the move, Stoltenberg repeated what he had said. The relocation of the training activities can only be done “with the consent of the Iraqis”, he added.

Stoltenberg said training activities in Iraq will resume as soon as possible. NATO has not yet released details of the number of troops or types of training activities to be undertaken by the approximately 500-strong Global Coalition training force. He added that these details would be discussed with the Global Coalition in Munich, Germany. on Friday.

The question remains whether countries will increase their military contribution and shift their activities from the global coalition to the NATO mission in Iraq. “Several allies or allies actually supported the decision to do more and take on some of the activities that are being carried out today by the US-led global coalition to fight IS,” said Stoltenberg.

NATO as an alliance and all NATO allies are also members of the global coalition. Unlike the Global Coalition, NATO troops are not involved in hostilities in Iraq.

On February 7, 2020, members of the Taji X Quick Reaction Force task group explained their mission and capabilities to the NATO command team at Camp Taji, Iraq. (Army Spc.Caroline Schofer / U.S. Department of Defense)

The Department of Defense expects NATO’s presence in Iraq to increase to reduce the number of American troops there, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.

“To the extent that NATO can balance the US presence, over time we could bring home some forces that you should all know have been my goal for some time,” Esper told reporters the way to the NATO Defense Ministers’ Conference to the Ministry of Defense.

A reduction in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq would allow the United States to deploy armed forces of the right size in other theaters, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the National Defense Strategy, he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.