Canada offers to lead new NATO training mission in Iraq
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his country is offering to lead NATO's new military training mission in Iraq for the first year and stands ready to provide 250 troops plus helicopters for the effort.
Trudeau said on Wednesday that it is important to help build the conflict-ravaged country's resilience against Islamic State extremists.
Speaking at a German Marshall Fund event on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Trudeau said that "we have to build that democracy and strengthen it," and doing so "is something that we believe in deeply".
NATO leaders are expected to announce later on Wednesday that the alliance is stepping up its troop training and military academy building effort in Iraq, with hundreds of trainers operating out of the capital, Baghdad.
The training mission, in the works for at least two years, will be commanded by a Canadian major-general, and Canadian troops will provide the bulk of the headquarters staff. The force will protect the hundreds of other NATO trainers expected to begin their work in July.
Currently Canada has about 850 soldiers and air crew in Iraq, with the government committed to keeping Canadian troops there until 2019.
Last month, its defence department announced it would end training support for Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters, following tensions between Iraqi government forces and Kurdish fighters in the north of the country.
In 2015, Canadian special forces Sergeant Andrew Doiron was killed and three members of his unit wounded when Kurdish troops mistakenly opened fire on them.
The Canadian offer to the NATO alliance comes after US President Donald Trump lashed out at allies for not spending as much as the US on defence.
"The US is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them," Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
Only five countries in the 28-member alliance meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defence, with Canada spending 1.23 percent.