Canadian forces have been tapped to lead NATO’s new military adviser mission in Iraq, as the alliance looks to expand and extend its operations in the war-torn country.
Roughly 250 Canadian troops alongside other NATO forces, along with four Griffon combat helicopters, will be deployed to new alliance outposts in Baghdad and surrounding areas to help stand up the new mission, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday.
“We are proud to take a leadership role in Iraq, and work with our Allies and the Government of Iraq, to help this region of the Middle East transition to long-lasting peace and stability,” Mr. Trudeau said of Canada’s new command role in the NATO mission, during a briefing at alliance headquarters in Brussels.
American and NATO military officials gave the green light to transform current U.S.-led coalition mission in Iraq into a more-multinational campaign amid the promise of new commitments from partner nations to increase the alliance’s contribution to a post-Islamic State Iraq.
The announcement of the new NATO mission comes a year after Iraqi forces, backed by American and allied air power and heavy artillery, liberated the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which had been the de facto capital in Iraq for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, since 2014.
But on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the alliance’s new mission in Iraq would not be combat focused, but will still aid the country in curbing the re-emergence of the Islamic State.
“We will launch a new training mission in Iraq, with hundreds of NATO trainers. We will also help set up military schools, to increase the professionalism of Iraqi forces,” Mr. Stoltenberg said during a speech ahead of this week’s alliance ministerial.
Canadian forces are already deployed in Iraq as part of Operation IMPACT, which one of several military adviser missions carried out U.S. and coalition forces under Operation Inherent Resolve. But this will be the first time a NATO-led operation in Iraq will be under Canadian command.
“The mission is the natural next step for Canada, as we move forward from the successful fight against [ISIS] to helping build institutional capacity in Iraq and create the foundations for longer-term peace and stability,” according to a statement issued by Ottawa on Wednesday. Canadian forces will take command of the new NATO mission in Iraq this fall, leading those operations for a yearlong tour.
The new NATO mission would proceed only with the explicit endorsement and cooperation from Baghdad, as the country continues to deal with the fallout from parliamentary elections in May, Defense Secretary James Mattis said in June, as deliberations over the new alliance mission in Iraq were ongoing.
We will deal with the will of the Iraqi people. We will deal with those who come into the new [Iraqi] government as it forms. And we will deal with them as a sovereign nation,” he told reporters at NATO headquarters last month.
A Pentagon plan to totally transform the Iraqi mission into a longer-term campaign more akin to current U.S. operations in Afghanistan has been shelved for the time being, as a result of the new, Canadian-led NATO mission in Iraq. However, the increased commitment by the alliance in Iraq could be a major step in that direction.
Prior to the June NATO meeting and this week’s annual ministerial, Pentagon sources told The Washington Times that Mr. Mattis intended to present the U.S. plan to expand the size and scope of the Iraqi military training operation — putting it on par with the ongoing mission in Afghanistan. The current force battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria consists of about 9,000 troops, some 5,000 of who are American.
But the current instability in Iraq’s security and political situation, stemming from the emerging coalition between the electoral bloc led by controversial Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Iranian-backed Fatah Alliance’s Hadi al-Amiri, is prompting the Pentagon to move slowly with a major force posture transition in Iraq, officials said.
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