First Published: 2017-05-18

NATO considers joining anti-IS coalition
NATO chief says some allies believe joining US-led coalition against jihadists in Iraq and Syria, without combat role, would send strong signal of support.
Middle East Online

Stoltenberg recalled that all 28 NATO member states had joined the coalition individually

BRUSSELS - Some NATO allies believe joining the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq could send a strong signal of support and that would not involve a combat role, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

US President Donald Trump meets NATO leaders in Brussels next week with the issue top of the agenda as part of his efforts to get the allies to focus on the terrorist threat and take on more of the defence burden.

Stoltenberg recalled that all 28 NATO member states had joined the anti-IS coalition on an individual basis while the alliance itself had provided AWACS surveillance aircraft to help its operations.

"It is now (being) discussed whether NATO should join," he said as he went into a meeting with EU defence ministers on boosting cooperation.

"Allies who are arguing in favour... (say) that by joining the coalition, NATO could send a clear signal of political support for the coalition and (provide) a better platform for coordinating," he said.

"This is not about NATO engaging in any combat operation... there has been no request and no one wants NATO to go into combat operations in Syria and Iraq," he added.

Stoltenberg did not say if he himself supported the move, apparently reflecting the sensitivity of the issue just days ahead of Trump's arrival.

NATO's top brass meeting Wednesday in Brussels said they believed there was "some merit" in joining the anti-IS coalition.

Some NATO allies, including France and Italy, are said to have reservations that such a move could lead NATO into a ground war and undermine its public standing in Arab nations.

There are also concerns at NATO expanding its currently limited training mission in Iraq for fear it could lead to it assuming eventual command, taking over from US forces as it did in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has turned into NATO's longest military campaign and although it halted its combat mission at end-2014, it remains heavily committed to training and advising Afghan government forces to hold off a resurgent Taliban.

The top US military commander, General Joe Dunford, who attended the Brussels military meeting on Wednesday, later suggested NATO could expand its role.

"You might see NATO making a contribution to logistics, acquisitions, institutional capacity building, leadership schools, academies -- those kind of things," Dunford, who is Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

"I don't think we are at the point now where we can envision or discuss NATO taking over" all missions of the anti-IS coalition in Iraq, he added.

 

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