ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, May 18, 2017 — NATO chiefs of defense agreed there is merit in examining the possibility of the alliance becoming an official part of the counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria coalition, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told reporters traveling with him yesterday.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that NATO joining the counter-ISIS coalition is a political decision, but that NATO’s chiefs of defense see real benefits in the alliance becoming a member. All of the nations that compose NATO are individually members of the counter-ISIS coalition, but NATO as a separate entity is not.
“Having NATO as a member of the defeat-ISIS coalition puts them at the table when we have discussions, and opens up information and intelligence sharing,” Dunford said after attending the NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels.
There is a small group operating under NATO auspices in Iraq right now, he said. These troops are building the capacity and capabilities of Iraqi forces. The mission serves as a proof-of-concept for the alliance.
There are many discussions and decisions that must occur before the alliance becomes a member, Dunford said. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi has said his country will need foreign help in training security forces in the future.
The prime minister must determine the long-term training requirements for Iraqi security forces, the chairman said. This will involve determining what’s needed once the level of violence in the country is driven down to the point that local Iraqi security forces can deal with it, Dunford said.
Iraqi forces are entering the final stages of the liberation of Mosul, but ISIS still controls areas west of Mosul and in al-Anbar province, the chairman said. That the Iraqis will need help is a given and the United States has pledged to provide some support.
The discussion at NATO today isn’t about whether Iraq will need support, but rather how to best provide it, Dunford said. The question then becomes what unique capabilities NATO can provide to the effort.
“From my perspective, if you look at it long-term, you are going to need a framework for making political decisions and then you are going to need a framework for generating forces to meet requirements,” the chairman said.
If there was a long-term training mission approved to build defense capacity “then NATO has the organizational construct and processes to take on a mission like that and do it on an enduring basis,” Dunford said. “It doesn’t mean they would have to do everything. It just means they might be uniquely postured to provide a training mission for an enduring period of time.”
This does not mean NATO will take over command of the mission to build defense capacity in Iraq, Dunford said. “I think what we will see is NATO will continue with a fairly modest contribution in the near term and political leadership in the coming months will discuss the potential of NATO assuming some greater responsibility in Iraq,” he said.
The Iraq mission is indicative of NATO’s growing and evolving capabilities, the chairman said. The alliance now has two agreed-upon missions as a result of the Warsaw Summit: the traditional mission of European security against a state threat, and what’s described as 360-degree security for the southern flank of the alliance.
The threat to the south comes from terrorism and the problems caused by that, as well as growing radicalization, the refugee flow and more, the general said.
“[The defense chiefs] make recommendations,” Dunford said. “I certainly believe that NATO has some unique capabilities that would argue for it to contribute in Iraq.”
The chairman said there was no push-back from his fellow chiefs on the idea, but the details need to be worked out.
“If the Iraqis agreed upon the need for a mission, I think NATO could make a contribution to logistics, acquisition, institutional capacity building — leadership schools, academies — and then you might have other tasks like advise and assist missions at corps level and division or brigade level,” he said.
The chairman said he’s a strong believer in NATO — he served as the NATO commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul for 18 months.
“I’ve seen what NATO can do in terms of sustaining an enduring mission in Afghanistan, and I think the political architecture and the processes that routinely happen in NATO — heads of state meetings, foreign minister meetings, force generation led by the deputy supreme allied commander — all those things are really good to leverage,” he said.
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