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NATO to Expand Training of Iraqis

June 10, 2005|Mark Mazzetti | Times Staff Writer

BRUSSELS — NATO plans to enlarge its efforts to improve Iraq's fledgling security forces by opening a base near Baghdad that will train 1,000 Iraqi officers each year, defense ministers gathered here said Thursday.

By September, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to have completed a headquarters at Rustimiya near Baghdad, where alliance officers will run the training program to help quell the country's violent insurgency.

The headquarters will be funded jointly by NATO, the Iraqi government and the U.S. military's training command in Iraq, which is led by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus. The general was in Brussels on Thursday to discuss plans for the training mission.

NATO has 121 officers in Baghdad training Iraqi forces from the Defense and Interior ministries, alliance officials said. They expect that number to grow over the summer.

It has been nearly a year since NATO pledged to participate in the training of Iraqi troops. Its mission accounts for a fraction of the overall training effort, which the Pentagon considers its top priority in Iraq.

The alliance also plans to expand its role in Afghanistan. NATO troops operate mostly in and around Kabul, the capital, and in western Afghanistan, but there are plans to push the alliance-led International Security Assistance Force into southern Afghanistan, which was once the Taliban's base.

The ISAF troops, who now number more than 8,000, have been operating in Afghanistan since 2002 under a mandate from the United Nations, though for the first two years they limited their mission primarily to Kabul. NATO took command of the force in 2003.

Also Thursday, the alliance made official its decision to participate in a mission airlifting African peacekeeping troops into Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld praised NATO's efforts to operate beyond its traditional European borders, saying such missions help the alliance remain relevant in the post-Cold War world.

"NATO has great promise today, greater than in some time," he said.

Rumsfeld left Brussels on Thursday evening, cutting short by a day his weeklong trip through Asia and Europe. Pentagon officials traveling with him said he had shortened the trip in part to be in Washington for the visit of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who will meet today with President Bush.

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