WASHINGTON – The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization committee on military policy and strategy said there is good reason for the alliance to join the international U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS.
“The chiefs of defense’s recommendation is that there’s some merit for NATO becoming a member of that coalition,” Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, said Wednesday following a committee meeting.
All NATO member states are party to the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, but Pavel said that NATO as a unit could use its expertise to help train Iraqi forces and build up local institutions.
“If NATO is to step up their efforts in Iraq by individuals or tens or hundreds, I will not tell you at this point, but there is general agreement that NATO can, and should do more, especially by stepping up efforts in training, capacity building, institution building, exercises to increasing home capabilities,” he said.
“That means the kinds of activities where NATO has not only good reputation but also a lot of expertise and experience.”
Pavel, a Czech army officer, said NATO would not take on a command-and-control role, like it has now in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, where NATO forces are training, advising and assisting locals. There are about 13,500 multinational NATO troops participating in that mission.
“We can expect it will be long-lasting activity, a long-lasting partnership with Iraq, as well as with many other countries in the region, but I don’t see it necessarily as kind of mission similar to Resolute Support,” he said.
France and Germany reportedly have reservations about the prospect of joining the anti-ISIS coalition as an alliance, concerned that it would lead to NATO taking over the fight or overshadowing regional partners, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Italy is also reportedly skeptical of the plan.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, who was present at the meeting, later told reporters that the decision is ultimately one for the political leadership of NATO member states to make. However, he said, joining the coalition would put the alliance “at the table when we have discussions, and opens up information and intelligence sharing.”
The meeting of defense chiefs sets the stage for another gathering on May 25, this time of the leaders of NATO member states.
U.S. President Donald Trump will attend that meeting. He has urged the alliance to do more to fight terrorism, called on member states who have not historically met a two-percent spending goal to pay the U.S. for its defense expenditures and has called the alliance obsolete.
But after meeting with NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg at the White House in April, Trump said he had changed his mind and declared the decades-old alliance “no longer obsolete.”
Pavel noted Wednesday that NATO has been fighting terrorism since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks on U.S. soil. The invasion marked the only time NATO’s Article 5 collective defense clause has been invoked.
When the heads of the NATO states gather next week, they will also discuss troop levels in Afghanistan. The lead NATO commander in the country, U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, has said the Afghan government is stuck in a stalemate with the Taliban, and urged NATO to contribute more troops to the Afghan training effort.
Trump is expected to make a decision about boosting the U.S. presence in Afghanistan by the end of the month, according to White House National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
“We know this is a long fight here… It’s going to take time to build a military in Afghanistan who now has the fight but the capacity to sustain that and bring the stability that is needed to bring the Taliban to negotiation,” the top NATO commander, U.S. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, said Wednesday.
“I have confidence we can do that. Our objective is in Afghanistan to ensure that we have a stable government that is no longer a safe haven and I would say to you we have to attain that. If we think we can leave, we will find we are back because we are fighting a global terrorist.”