The Pentagon is reportedly open to the possibility of sending more American troops to Iraq in an expanded NATO training mission for Iraqi security forces.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed the training mission with his NATO colleagues Thursday, according to CNN. Although an increase in troop levels is on the table, there are no imminent plans for it at the moment, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby clarified Thursday night.
We support NATO’s expanded mission in Iraq and will continue to do so, but there are no plans to increase U.S. force levels there.
— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) February 19, 2021
“The US is participating in the force generation process for NATO Mission Iraq and will contribute its fair share to this important expanded mission,” Pentagon spokesperson Jessica L. McNulty said to CNN. The aim of the mission is reportedly to support Iraqi forces in the fight to prevent ISIS from re-emerging as a substantial regional threat. (RELATED: President Biden Briefed After 5 Americans Injured In Iraq Rocket Attack)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that NATO’s presence for the mission would jump from about 500 personnel to around 4,000, CNN reported. Austin reportedly “welcomed the expanded role” of NATO in Iraq, and Stoltenberg stressed the importance of keeping ISIS in check. “ISIS is still there. ISIS still operates in Iraq, and we need to make sure that they’re not able to return,” Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg also added that the increase in NATO personnel in the country came at the request of the Iraqi government.
An increase in American involvement in Iraq would be a change in direction from policy under former President Donald Trump. Troop levels in the country fell to 2,500 by the end of Trump’s term. Before the transition to the Biden administration, Trump’s acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said the troop reduction was a sign of success: “The drawdown of US force levels in Iraq is reflective of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. Our ability to reduce force levels is evidence of real progress.”