Although NATO is committed to the training mission in Iraq, the alliance has suspended training operations in the country, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels today.
”In everything that we do, the safety of our personnel is paramount,” Stoltenberg told the media after a meeting of the North Atlantic Council. ”As such, we have for the time being suspended our training on the ground, and we are taking all precautions necessary to protect our people. We are keeping the situation under close review.”
NATO and all NATO allies take part in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and NATO’s mission in Iraq is an important contribution to the coalition’s effort. The mission is a noncombat role for NATO personnel.
The alliance is in the country at the invitation of the Iraqi government to train Iraqi forces to prevent the return of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Stoltenberg said. That mission did not end with the killing in Iraq of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force – part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.
A U.S. airstrike killed Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport Jan. 2.
”NATO is prepared to continue our training and capacity building when the situation permits,” the secretary general said. ”We remain strongly committed to the fight against international terrorism.”
Stoltenberg said U.S. officials briefed the allies on the regional situation following the killing of Soleimani. ”For years, all allies have expressed concern about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the wider Middle East region,” he said. ”We agree Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon; we share concern about Iran’s missile tests, and we are united in condemning Iran’s support for a variety of different terrorist groups.”
Stoltenberg said the allies called for restraint and de-escalation. ”A new conflict would be in no one’s interest,” he said. ”So, Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations.”