“No ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey. They are important in the fight against Daesh. They are the only ally which is bordering Syria and Iraq,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Stoltenberg’s remarks came during a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels.
He added that the progress and achievements NATO has made in that fight would not be possible without using Turkish bases and infrastructure.
Stoltenberg said NATO is also extending support to Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean to crack down on refugee smuggling routes.
“Actually we could do more to provide support if that is requested or called for by the EU, for instance, to help implement the arms embargo against Libya,” he said.
Stoltenberg reiterated the importance of the transatlantic bond between Europe and North America.
“I believe in the transatlantic bond between North America and Europe despite the fact I know that people question the strength of that transatlantic bond on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.
Stoltenberg said this bond is symbolized by NATO itself.
Beefed-up training role in Iraq
Stoltenberg also said that the alliance must beef up its military training operation in Iraq to ensure that its members are not drawn back into combat there against ISIL extremists.
Stoltenberg has held talks in recent days with senior Iraqi and officials and King Abdullah of neighboring Jordan amid cautious optimism that NATO might be permitted to resume its training activities in Iraq in the near future.
“We need to go heavy in and train. Build everything from the ministry of defense, institutions, command and control, to train forces. NATO can do that. We already do it, but we can scale up,” he said.
NATO agreed in 2018 to launch a training mission in Iraq involving around 500 troops with the aim of building up the country’s armed forces so they could better combat extremist groups like ISIL.
But the operation was put on hold after a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport killed Iran’s top general earlier this month and the Iraqi government demanded that foreign troops leave its territory. As tensions mounted, U.S. President Donald Trump insisted that NATO should do more in the region.
However, there is little appetite among European allies and Canada to deploy troops, even though the United States is by far the biggest and most influential of the 29 NATO member countries.
While acknowledging that he opposed the Iraq war as a Norwegian lawmaker in 2003, Stoltenberg said he thought “the West left a bit too early” and that ISIL took advantage of the security vacuum by seizing vast swathes of territory in northern Iraq and Syria.
“I strongly believe that if we don’t act now we may be forced back in combat,” he told the parliamentarians.
“We must prevent that from happening again, and therefore we need to build some local (security) capacity so they prevent [ISIL] from coming back.”
“If we don’t do that we will have a big problem, for certain, and then we may end up 2-3 years down the road back in a big combat operation,” Stoltenberg said.
Hurriyet Daily News