General Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Thursday that he believes the NATO defense chiefs he met with this week agree that they should examine the possibility of the international alliance assuming an active role in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Currently, all 28-member states that make up the NATO organization are already involved in the fight against ISIS worldwide, but the organization itself remains uninvolved.  There are currently some pockets of military personnel operating under the auspices of NATO in Iraq, but their efforts are solely in capability building with the Iraqi military.

“Having NATO as a member of the defeat-ISIS coalition puts them at the table when we have discussions, and opens up information and intelligence sharing,” Dunford said after attending the NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels.

According to Dunford, the decision to involve NATO formally in the coalition engaged with ISIS in Iraq and Syria is a purely political one, but he and many of the other defense officials that met this week agreed that they could see the benefits to operational capability NATO’s formal involvement could offer.

NATO’s involvement could provide assistance in training security forces within Iraq that the local government believes will be necessary in order to stabilize the nation once ISIS has been defeated.  According to Dunford, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi will first need to determine the long-term training requirements his people will need before any real benefit from NATO assistance can truly be ascertained.

“The discussion at NATO today isn’t about whether Iraq will need support, but rather how to best provide it,” Dunford told reporters during his flight back to Washington D.C.  “The question then becomes what unique capabilities NATO can provide to the effort.”

“From my perspective, if you look at it long-term, you are going to need a framework for making political decisions and then you are going to need a framework for generating forces to meet requirements,” the chairman added.

If it turned out Iraq required a long-term training operation in order to adequately stabilize the nation, “then NATO has the organizational construct and processes to take on a mission like that and do it on an enduring basis,” Dunford said. “It doesn’t mean they would have to do everything. It just means they might be uniquely postured to provide a training mission for an enduring period of time.”

Despite his interest in NATO playing an active role in the training of Iraqi forces, Dunford was sure to temper his enthusiasm by clarifying that he doesn’t envision NATO assuming much more responsibility beyond the potential training operations.

Despite claiming he received no pushback from fellow defense officials in this week’s meetings, Dunford explained that there are a number of conversations that must be had before any forward movement can be made on the subject.

“[The defense chiefs] make recommendations,” Dunford said. “I certainly believe that NATO has some unique capabilities that would argue for it to contribute in Iraq.”

“If the Iraqis agreed upon the need for a mission, I think NATO could make a contribution to logistics, acquisition, institutional capacity building — leadership schools, academies — and then you might have other tasks like advise and assist missions at corps level and division or brigade level,” he said.

 

Image courtesy of the Defense Department