NATO will expand its training mission in Iraq

NATO confirms it will expand its training mission in Iraq and warns of "tough months ahead" in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that member states have agreed to expand its training mission in Iraq to help Iraqi forces fight extremism.

Stoltenberg was speaking after a two-day meeting of western military alliance defense ministers. "While the security situation remains challenging, NATO remains committed to stepping up our support," he said. 

Stoltenberg added: "Our aim is to help build self-sustaining Iraqi forces able to fight terrorism, prevent the return of ISIS, and stabilize their country."

He said NATO is "concerned" by the increase in the number and sophistication of attacks against international forces in Iraq.

NATO has a 500-strong training mission in the country to prepare local forces in the event of attacks from Islamic State extremists.

Stoltenberg said the scope of the mission’s upgrading would be decided at a meeting of alliance defense ministers in February.

Speaking about Afghanistan Stoltenberg also urged the Taliban to reduce "unacceptable levels of violence" and break ties with violent groups.

But he also confirmed concern over last week’s US announcement that the American troop contingent will be cut to around 2,500 early next year – despite the potential impact on peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents.

"The negotiations in Doha are fragile, but they are the best chance for peace in a generation. And all Afghans should seize this historic opportunity,”"said Stoltenberg, adding that "the next months are decisive for Afghanistan."

Stoltenberg also said that "NATO backs the peace process. And we have adjusted our presence to support it," scaling its troop presence back to less than 12,000 from more than one hundred thousand.