NATO allies on Saturday agreed to provide increased military support to countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are targets of Islamic extremism, including using NATO surveillance planes in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Alliance leaders also agreed to launch a new naval mission in the Mediterranean, and made commitments to maintain a stable military presence in Afghanistan and to fund Afghan security forces through 2020.
“We’re moving forward with the most significant reinforcement of our collective defense any time since the Cold War,” US President Barack Obama said at a news conference at the end of a crucial NATO summit in Warsaw.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO will start a training and capacity-building mission for Iraqi armed forces in Iraq, a country he called central in the fight against IS. NATO is also working to establish an intelligence center in Tunisia, a major recruiting ground for IS, and will shortly start providing support to Tunisian special operation forces.
“Today we have taken decisions to strengthen our partners and to project stability beyond our borders,” Stoltenberg told reporters. He said millions of people in Africa and the Middle East have been rendered “homeless and helpless” by radical organizations like IS and that the extremist groups are also to blame for organizing terrorist attacks in Europe and America.
Obama, who was attending his last NATO summit, called it “a pivotal moment for our alliance.”
“In nearly 70 years of NATO we have perhaps never faced such a range of challenges all at once — security, humanitarian, political,” he said. But he concluded that with the multifaceted efforts being made, “NATO is as strong, as nimble and as ready as ever.”
Stoltenberg said Obama and leaders of the other 27 NATO countries also agreed in principle for alliance surveillance aircraft to provide direct support to the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq. NATO diplomats say they expect flights by alliance AWACS planes to begin this fall and Stoltenberg labelled the move “a clear signal of our resolve to help tackle terrorism.”
He said the alliance will launch a new maritime operation in the Mediterranean called Operation Sea Guardian, whose responsibilities will include counterterrorism. NATO will also cooperate with the European Union’s efforts to shut down human smuggling operations that have fueled Europe’s greatest migrant crisis since World War II.
The alliance will also increase cooperation with Jordan, and is preparing to help the new government in Libya design policies and institutions to help it better defend itself against extremist organizations, Stoltenberg said.
“We will provide greater support to our partners, so they can secure their countries and push back against violent extremism,” he said.