Esper will call on NATO allies to increase support for Iraq

The head of the Pentagon said that this would reduce the burden on the US military.

US defense Secretary Mark Esper said he expects additional assistance from NATO allies in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and support for US defense efforts in the Middle East more broadly.

In an interview on his way to Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense Ministers, Esper told reporters that he wants NATO countries to increase support for Iraq’s security forces.
“If they allocate additional forces for this, it will allow us to reduce [the load on their troops],” he said.

Esper is looking for ways to reduce the US military presence in Iraq so that some of the militaries can return home and focus on long-term challenges, especially from China. Similarly, it is exploring the possibility of withdrawing some troops from Africa.

Currently, about 5,000 American soldiers are stationed in Iraq. They continue years of training and advising Iraqi security forces to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic state. In addition, 18 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, there are about 12,000 us troops in this country.

NATO is leading a training mission in Iraq, but its contingent is not fully staffed.

Esper will discuss Iraq, Afghanistan and other major military issues at a meeting at NATO headquarters on Wednesday and Thursday. After that, he will go to an international security conference in Munich, where some of these issues will also be included on the agenda.

Esper said he wants NATO countries other than Iraq to contribute more to the defense of the Persian Gulf region by providing air defense systems in places like Saudi Arabia, which suffered a missile and drone strike in September. Washington laid the responsibility for the strike on Iran.

Although NATO allies have long contributed to the US military effort to combat extremists in Iraq, they are not particularly enthusiastic about the possibility of being drawn into the US campaign to counter Iran.

At the meeting in Brussels, Esper will probably have to answer questions from European participants about the trump administration’s plans for nuclear arms control. Some European allies question the correctness of the US decision to deploy ballistic missiles equipped with low-power nuclear warheads on submarines. Last week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it had put such weapons into service for the first time.

NATO allies are also interested in whether the Trump administration will accept Russia’s offer to extend the Start-3 Treaty, which regulates the number of deployed US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons. The agreement expires in February 2021.

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