NATO will join Australia in sending military trainers to Iraq. The move will come before the end of the year in response to appeals by Iraqi leaders for speedy action, US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said yesterday.
“We have an agreement that those trainers will go into Iraq by the end of the year,” Mr Burns said in Romania after NATO defence ministers discussed the issue at an informal meeting.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the NATO trainers and forces to protect them must be on the ground in Iraq “as soon as possible. And as soon as possible to me means this year”.
“Speed is of the essence here,” he said. “This is what the Iraqis want.”
The pledge for fast action comes as the US tries to rapidly build up Iraqi security forces to help secure the country in time for January elections.
Under a plan agreed to by NATO last week, several hundred NATO officers are to train senior Iraqi military officers at a military academy on the outskirts of Baghdad.
The size of the NATO contingent has not been decided but would need support elements and troops to protect them.
The mission will come under the command of US Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, who heads the larger effort to train Iraqi security forces.
NATO already has about 50 officers in Baghdad advising the Iraqi Defence Ministry as well as general staff.
There are already 44 Australian Army trainers working with about 2700 Iraqi army soldiers.
But Germany and France, which opposed last year’s US-led invasion of Iraq, had serious reservations about the expanded NATO mission.
They have agreed to take part in training Iraqi troops, but only outside Iraq.