- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2018

NATO’s highly anticipated military-adviser mission in Iraq is slated to go operational by this fall, the head of U.S. Central Command said Thursday.

Gen. Joseph Votel provided little detail as to how many NATO troops would be involved in the new training mission, which countries would be contributing troops to the mission, or how long the alliance’s mission in the country would last. But the four-star general did note the alliance’s increased effort in Iraq will be critical to maintaining long-term security in the country.

“The key to all of this is out stabilization efforts” in Iraq, including the new NATO initiative, he said during a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon from command headquarters in Tampa.

Gen. Votel’s announcement is the first indication of a concrete timeline in regards to the mission that has been released thus far. President Trump announced the new training mission during NATO’s annual ministerial meeting, held at alliance headquarters in Brussels. During the meeting, Trump criticized that NATO countries were not prioritizing military efforts, urging allies to commit at least 4 percent of their respective GDPs to the cause.

The new military training and advising mission will be focused on resisting a potential re-emergence of the Islamic state rather than military efforts, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in early July.

Mr. Stoltenberg also added that the alliance will help set up military schools in Iraq to increase the professionalism of their forces.

Though the United States has historically led the fight in Iraq, Canada has stepped forward to take a leading role this time.

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 earlier this month.

“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,” said Mr. Trudeau.

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.

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