U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he is looking to NATO allies for more help in countering the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Iraq and in bolstering American defense efforts in the Middle East more broadly.
Talking to journalists while flying to Brussels to attend a NATO defense ministers meeting, Esper told reporters on February 11 that he wants the alliance to do more to help Iraq's security forces.
"As they put more forces in, that could allow us to decrease" the U.S. military's workload there, he said.
NATO defense ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels this week to discuss a proposal to move some forces from the U.S.-led coalition fighting the IS to the alliance's training mission in Iraq.
Earlier on February 11, the U.S. envoy to the alliance said such a plan for NATO to expand its Iraq mission by reassigning troops from the anti-IS coalition could meet President Donald Trump's call for more alliance action in the Middle East
Kay Bailey Hutchison welcomed the move, adding that it would enable coalition forces to carry out more combat operations against IS remnants in Iraq.
"It's part of burden-sharing -- our European allies coming in with us and doing more in counterterrorism," Hutchison told reporters.
"The NATO operation is already ongoing in Iraq and I think it will definitely be an answer to what President Trump has requested."
Trump last month called on NATO to do more in the Middle East, days after a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad triggered a regional crisis.
A plan to transfer some coalition forces -- who number some 11,000 across Iraq, Syria and Kuwait -- to NATO's structures has already won Baghdad's backing, according to diplomatic sources.