“The United States is participating in the force-building process for the NATO Mission in Iraq and will contribute its fair share to this important expanded mission,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr said. Jessica L. McNulty told CNN. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke about the mission with his NATO counterparts during a meeting with defense ministers on Thursday.
At a news conference Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO mission would increase in size from 500 to about 4,000.
“The U.S. and its partners in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS remain committed to ensuring the permanent defeat of ISIS, and the Department expects ongoing consultations with Iraq, NATO, and the Global Coalition to continue,” McNulty added.
Austin “welcomed the expanded role” of NATO’s mission in Iraq, according to a reading of discussions provided by the Pentagon. He “expressed confidence that all the work done so far with the Iraqi government and security forces will lead to a self-sustaining mission.”
Stoltenberg stressed the importance of NATO’s mission to prevent the resurgence of ISIS.
“Not so long ago, ISIS controlled the territory as large as the United Kingdom and approximately 8 million people. They have lost that control,” Stoltenberg said. “But ISIS is still there. ISIS is still operating in Iraq and we have to make sure they are not able to return. And we also see an increase in attacks by ISIS. And that only underscores the importance of strengthening Iraqi forces.”
The increase in NATO forces would be increasing and comes at the request of the Iraqi government, he added.
Trump’s Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller called for troop withdrawals before Biden took office as a sign of the mission’s success, saying, “The withdrawal of US forces in Iraq reflects the increased capabilities of the security forces. “Reducing the level of force is a testament to real progress.”
In early February, Austin announced a review of the force’s global stance, in which military leaders would review the levels of U.S. troops around the world, including “military tracks, resources, strategy and missions.”
Austin stressed the importance of alliances and partnerships as part of the review.
“From Afghanistan and the Middle East, across Europe, Africa and our hemisphere, to the vast expanse of the Western Pacific, the United States stands side by side with old and new allies, large and small partners,” he said. Austin. “Each of them brings to the mission unique skills, knowledge and abilities. And each of them represents a relationship worth remembering, preserving and respecting. We will do that.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said no final decisions or recommendations had been made as part of the review of the global force’s stance.
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