NATO has launched its training mission for Iraqi forces by sending a small group of officers to the country to consult with authorities and to prepare logistics.
The NATO Training Implementation Mission is being led by Dutch Air Force Major General Carel Hilderink and will initially consist of about 45 people.
The first four officers left for Iraq today from a command centre in Naples, and the remainder should deploy next week, NATO said.
“Through the training of the Iraqi security forces, the Alliance will help bring forward the day when international forces are no longer required in Iraq,” the NATO statement said.
Alliance headquarters called it the official start of the training mission.
“The guys will essentially start work right away, establishing contact, offering advice and preparing the long-term training,” spokesman Robert Pszczel said at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO leaders agreed to the mission at their summit in late June but had left details vague.
The 26 NATO countries agreed a week ago to send the team after side-stepping a dispute between the United States and France over command of the alliance operation.
The mission members are being drawn from NATO military planning headquarters in southern Belgium as well as command centres in Naples and Norfolk, Virginia.
The advance party of four officers will set up the groundwork for the overall group of 45, who will do some training and assess details of how the mission should be conducted.
The team is to report back to NATO headquarters on September 15 about proposed command links with the US-led multi-national force, which is expected to provide security.
NATO will then decide how to proceed with the mission.
Last week, US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said he expected the initial mission to be followed by a far larger force.
“It will certainly grow into the hundreds very rapidly in the early autumn,” he said.
So far, NATO’s role in Iraq has been limited to providing logistical backup to a Polish-led division working with the American troops.
Although 16 NATO members already have some troops there, they are not under the NATO flag.