NATO’s members are aiming to boost the number of training and military advisory personnel at the alliance’s mission in Iraq, in response to President Trump’s call for them to do more in the Middle East, officials said.
Under a proposal that has won broad support among its members, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would reassign trainers to its mission from the U.S.-led global coalition against Islamic State, which is currently outside NATO structures. The proposal could be approved by NATO defense ministers when they hold a scheduled meeting next month, diplomats said.
Mr. Trump’s request earlier this month in a telephone call with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg caught U.S. and other officials at the alliance by surprise, officials say. The new proposal would allow the alliance to respond quickly to the appeal from its most important member without opening a politically fraught debate over committing more troops to the region.
“It wouldn’t change much on the ground,” said a European diplomat at NATO, who described the idea as “streamlining and rebranding.”
NATO has received repeated criticism from Mr. Trump and has worked in recent years to satisfy his calls for allies to do more. The focus on placating Mr. Trump has irritated some European officials. French President Emmanuel Macron said late last year that NATO was experiencing “brain death” because the U.S. wasn’t consulting with its close allies on strategic decisions.
Diplomats at NATO say the alliance could take further steps to bolster its presence in the Middle East, but that folding personnel already present into the NATO mission was the fastest and most effective way to respond quickly to Mr. Trump’s request. It also aligns with the Trump administration’s desire to reduce its footprint in the region, according to alliance officials.
NATO had roughly 500 trainers, advisers and support staff in Iraq until it paused its mission amid tensions after the targeted killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani by the U.S.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State was formed in 2014 and includes 34 countries that provide roughly 11,000 personnel across Iraq, Syria and Kuwait. The majority are focused on training and mentoring Iraqi security forces or related logistics and support, a spokesperson for the coalition said.
Officials couldn’t provide figures on how many service members could join the NATO mission.