NATO leaders meeting in Istanbul today approved -- with certain qualifications -- a controversial decision to provide training and equipment to Iraqi security forces. NATO leaders also agreed to expand the alliance's peacekeeping force to provide security for Afghanistan's elections scheduled for September. Decisions aimed at increasing the "usability" of European troops were also adopted. RFE/RL reports from Istanbul.
Istanbul, 28 Jun 2004 (RFE/RL) -- NATO today responded positively to an appeal from the new Iraqi interim prime minister to help train and equip the country's security forces.
Sidestepping a potentially damaging dispute on whether training missions should take place inside or outside Iraq, the summit issued a vaguely worded declaration, saying only that training will be provided.
NATO diplomats say this allows countries like France and Germany to avoid involvement in Iraq itself. Berlin is already training Iraqi troops in Jordan and Germany itself. France and Germany are also expected to put an emphasis on providing equipment.
Officials say the decision means NATO will officially "fly its flag" in Iraq.
NATO leaders said that "contributing to peace and stability in Afghanistan is NATO's key priority." They agreed to establish three new PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams), together with a small "assistant-PRT" in Konduz. The PRTs serve as regional headquarters for reconstruction projects by NATO and coalition forces. This decision falls short of the long-stated aim of setting up five new PRTs by the date of the summit. Germany and the Netherlands will take a lead role in two of the four PRTs, while the United Kingdom will be in charge of the other two.
A summit statement adds that NATO pledges to "contribute to ISAF the forces necessary for successful completion of our mission in Afghanistan." Responding to a request from Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, "ISAF supports the voter registration process and will provide enhanced support to the Afghan authorities in providing security during the election period, within means and capabilities." However, officials say no decisions were taken yesterday on whether existing troop levels will be increased and by how much. Officials also say NATO's military authorities have already made the preliminary assessments necessary for the possible deployment of parts of the NATO Response Force, but that differences persist among member states as to numbers and mandate.
NATO leaders watered down an initial plan to set precise and demanding targets for their "force generation" capabilities. On the night of 27 June, NATO defence ministers approved a communique suggesting all member states must be able to deploy abroad at least 40 percent of their troops, with 8 percent on mission at any given time. However, because of resistance from what officials call "a small number of countries" the summit communique will refers to the defence ministers' decision but will not mention the specific figures. Officials say some of the controversy stems from the lack of consensus on how to measure contributions such as naval vessels, aircraft, or logistics.
The summit also formally decided that NATO will hand over its SFOR mission in Bosnia to the European Union before the end of the year. The precise date remains to be worked out. EU security policy chief Javier Solana briefed NATO leaders today on EU plans.
Diplomats say NATO will retain a modest presence in Bosnia after the handover. NATO will set up small-scale headquarters will be set up in Sarajevo, and some units will remain to conduct antiterrorismt operations and hunt down war criminals. Both tasks are conferred on NATO by the Dayton peace agreement which ended the Bosnian civil war.
Membership hopefuls Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia were all praised for their progress in recent years but in a noncommittal fashion. No distinction is made among the countries. More important, the summit shied away from suggesting that invitations to join alliance would be handed out the next time NATO leaders meet. Instead, a summit declaration says their progress would be "reviewed" then.
Georgia appeared to have won a small victory garnering a welcoming reference to its recent reforms in the summit conclusions. Officials say this sets the country apart from its two South Caucasian neighbors.