WASHINGTON — NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples is stepping out smartly to establish the alliance training mission in Iraq, said Navy Adm. James Foggo, the commander of the Joint Force Command, in a recent interview.
Iraqi leaders asked the alliance to stand up the mission, and NATO heads of state approved the request during the Brussels Summit July 12.
The NATO effort will build on past NATO involvement in the country. In the past, seven personnel acted as facilitators for NATO efforts. The training mission will have about 500 personnel in the nation to push forward. A Canadian major general will be the commander in Iraq, Foggo said.
The Iraqi government does not want to make the same mistakes that led to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria taking over much of the country in 2014. Iraqi security forces had let their training lapse and ISIS was able to capture the western part of the nation and much of the north. The crown jewel in the ISIS effort was the capture of Mosul, the second-largest city in the country.
“Thankfully, we formed a coalition that went in and did some significant training and work with Iraqi forces who pushed them back,” Foggo said.
Fighting ISIS, rebuilding
This was an incredible effort on the part of the Iraqis and coalition personnel, the admiral said. Iraqi security forces were holding off ISIS, while rebuilding for the long-term fight against the terrorist organization.
NATO was a part of that effort. At the time, NATO teams concentrated on triage and medical training for Iraqi forces heading to the field, showing them how to counter improvised explosive devices and conducting explosive ordnance disposal training.
“This is significant because the amount of unexploded ordnance there, particularly in Mosul, is huge,” Foggo said.
The NATO trainers also helped train Iraqis in repair of old Russian equipment like T-72 tanks and BMPs – amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles.
“We did all that with a very small number of about seven people in Baghdad,” Foggo said. “They served as facilitators to bring in the training teams, the medical teams (and) the mechanics operating out of a couple forward operating areas in country.”
The new NATO mission formalizes the effort and commitment of the alliance. The mission will also facilitate a bigger mission set. The Iraqis have asked for more technical training, more advanced training and they would also like to become much more proficient in the area of explosive ordnance disposal, he said.
‘It’s a Good Mission’
Foggo said a meeting he had recently in Iraq illustrates the need. He was visiting Besimayah Range in Iraq earlier this year and met with the Iraqi team tasked with going into Mosul to disarm the unexploded ordnance in the city.
“These guys went in and they got everything they could above ground, to pave the way for people to return their homes and they get back to rebuilding and reconstruction,” the admiral said.
“It’s a good mission,” he continued. “It’s one NATO embraces and we look forward to leading it here in the future.”
The troops themselves are dedicated and willing, Foggo said. At that meeting in Besimayah, he spoke with Iraqi personnel who had served in Mosul.
“The first thing that struck me was that they were very professional, stand-up young men who looked me in the eye,” Foggo said. “One of the EOD specialists had been gassed. He had been disarming some sort of device that went off. It was chlorine gas and they got exposed. They were very proud of the fact that they were taken to an American field hospital to be treated.”
“I see them as being brave, very professional and very focused on the task that they have to rebuild their country now that they have succeeded in taking it back,” the admiral added.
The needs of Iraqi forces will change over time, Foggo noted. EOD may be the big need now, but something else may be more important next year. “As we get there and we provide a level of expertise that the NATO alliance can provide with all the different warfare specialties that we have and all the skill sets that we have, the alliance is a very powerful and robust and resource rich alliance,” the admiral said. “We have people who understand how to maintain the infantry branch, maintain the armor corps, how to teach strategy and tactics, how to disarm bombs -- we’re going to find things where there may be gaps or seams where the Iraqi armed forces might need help with,” he said.
“If it is in our mandate and under the rubric of training and nonkinetic activity … then we can slide into that and adapt to that fairly easily,” Foggo said.