U.S. troops in Mideast welcome expected NATO help
July 22, 2004
The NATO alliance has yet to say just how it will aid Iraqi security forces, but is expected to make an announcement before month’s end.
Meanwhile, some U.S. troops on desert duty say they welcome any help the alliance could give to get more local boots on the sweltering, perilous beat.
“I think our allies should train more Iraqis so we have more Iraqi folks on the streets,” said Spc. Franklin Ball, a 850th Transportation Company soldier who often drives between Baghdad and Balad. “I see more Iraqi forces out there, but there should be more of them pulling security.”
The alliance has agreed in principle to train the forces, but exactly how it will work — or where it will take place — is up in the air.
“There has been no decision on that,” a NATO press official said. “We are waiting for advice from a team that went to Iraq, and the secretary-general is also going to write a report.”
That report will go to the North Atlantic Council, which is made up of representatives from the 26 member states. The United States had wanted NATO to dispatch troops to Iraq, but Germany and France were against approving actual deployments. Instead, a compromise deal announced at last month’s Istanbul Summit allows the allies to train Iraqi forces inside or outside the country.
Last week, Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari visited Brussels, Belgium, to meet with the council and speed up the program.
“Our requests have been that we need this training you promised us in Istanbul to be carried out as soon as possible,” Zebari said, according to a news conference transcript. “We need it, in fact we are in a race against time and it’s a matter of urgency.”
The NATO secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the training could take several forms, including training border guards.
“Let there be no mistake, it will be an implementation of the decision taken in Istanbul,” de Hoop Scheffer said. “... The efforts and the results of these efforts must be visible very quickly indeed to inspire confidence.”
A NATO press official said that the training would most likely focus on the Iraqi army, as opposed to any kind of police force. Zebari, the foreign minister, also asked for equipment, though he wasn’t specific about what that meant. No mention of equipment was made in the alliance’s summit agreement.
The NATO official said that while that may be the case, the alliance would likely attempt to help. However, the only equipment the alliance has of its own are Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, meaning that any other gear would be given individually by member states.
Though the United States originally wanted the alliance to send troops, one American officer serving in Iraq was glad NATO had agreed only to train security forces there.
“Now that Iraq has sovereignty, it should be Iraqi forces providing security,” said 2nd Lt. Brent Barnes of the Joint South Task Force. “Unless they are training Iraqi forces, it’s not the coalition forces that should be seen on the streets of Iraq.”
Reporter Rick Emert contributed to this report from Baghdad.