WASHINGTON — NATO leaders congratulated themselves in stamping out the ISIS land caliphate in Iraq and Syria but warned — and urged — each other not to let the terrorists build another one in Afghanistan.
“The ISIS physical caliphate can never again rise to threaten us,” Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday. He said NATO need to “position itself to build on (the Middle East success) going forward.
Esper was one of 35 defense ministers from NATO and other nations who huddled on Thursday in Brussels that are part of the anti-ISIS coalition.
“The threat we face today is significantly different than the one that arose in 2014,” Esper said to open the meeting. “We must adapt the reality and position ourselves appropriately.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO action in Iraq and Syria resulted in “million of people (freed) from oppression” yet the fight “remains as deadly as even.”
He said the critical element now is building and training local forces to “strengthen resolve against terrorists” — a program he said has had success in Afghanistan and is now underway in Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and elsewhere.
“We must ensure the caliphate that ISIS lost in the Middle East will not be reestablished in Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said. “We will stay in Afghanistan for as long as necessary, to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. We went into Afghanistan together and we will take decisions about future of our mission together.”
The two men made their comments in the opening public part of the meeting.
ISIS also is active in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, Chad, Mali, Niger, Pakistan and the Philippines, among other areas.
As part of the continuing anti-ISIS mission, Canada announced on Wednesday that it will continue to command a NATO mission in Iraq for a second year until November 2020. Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan will be promoted to the rank of major-general and take over the command in the fall of roughly 580 NATO-led troops, of which 250 are from Canada and include troops from non-NATO partners Australia, Finland and Sweden.