The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced Monday that it has temporarily suspended its training operations in Iraq to ensure the safety of its personnel, amid tensions in the Middle East after the Jan. 2 killing of Qassem Soleimani.
“In everything that we do, the safety of our personnel is paramount,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels after a meeting of the North Atlantic Council. “As such, we have for the time being suspended our training on the ground, and we are taking all precautions necessary to protect our people. We are keeping the situation under close review.”
“We have suspended our training mission now because of the security situation on the ground. But we are ready to restart the training when the situation on the ground makes that possible,” he said.
At the Iraqi government’s request, NATO scaled up its training and advising efforts in Iraq after ISIS was hugely stamped out of the country in late 2017. NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) was later established in October 2018, after three years of war against ISIS.
NMI is a non-combat “train-and-advise” and capacity-building mission that seeks to strengthen Iraqi security forces and Iraqi military training institutions so that Iraqi forces can independently prevent the return of the ISIS terrorist group and help to stabilize the country. NMI includes up to several hundred trainers, advisers, and support staff from the 29 Allied countries as well as non-NATO partners such as Australia, Sweden, and Finland.
Stoltenberg said that the meeting of the North Atlantic Council involved the United States briefing allies on the regional situation after recent attacks on the United States and Iraqi troops in Iraq and Soleimani’s death.
He said that NATO allies continue to express concern about Iran’s activities in the Middle East.
“All Allies have, several times, expressed their concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including Iran’s support for different terrorist groups,” he said. “And, of course, all Allies agree that Iran should never be able to develop nuclear weapons. We have also expressed again and again our concerns about Iran’s missile program: missiles which can also reach many European Allied countries.”
“A new conflict would be in no one’s interest, so Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations,” Stoltenberg also said.
Separately, the German military said on Friday, Jan. 3, that the United States and its allies have suspended training of Iraqi forces under the U.S.–led counter-terrorism mission known as Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) due to the increased threat in the Middle East region.
OIR, commanded by U.S. Lieutenant General Pat White, was set up in 2014 to counter the threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and its mandate now includes operations to stabilize the region.
In a letter to German lawmakers seen by Reuters, Lieutenant-General Erich Pfeffer said White had decided to increase the level of protection for forces with OIR in Iraq. Germany has deployed around 120 troops to that mission.
Reuters contributed to this report.