BRUSSELS — NATO is looking at stepping up its involvement in the fight against the Islamic State, including sending trainers to Iraq and providing aerial surveillance, following a request for more capabilities from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi, a senior NATO diplomat said Wednesday.
As the second and final day of the NATO defense ministerial nearly wrapped up, the diplomat said officials are "within reach of getting agreement" on the unanimous vote required among members to launch NATO operations against the Islamic State.
"This is a pretty well-coordinated effort, that's why I have confidence in just three weeks that we'll get to a 28-0 vote and we'll probably unveil these decisions at Warsaw," the diplomat said, speaking on background and referencing NATO's summit next month in Poland.
Abadi asked for increased capabilities, including counter-explosives training, ministerial advisers, and support for logistics and medical care, the diplomat said. The prime minister also asked for Iraqi-troop training, which is done in Jordan, to be moved inside Iraq to avoid hassles with visas and taking troops too far out of the fight.
No final decision has been made yet on where NATO trainers would be located inside Iraq, the number of personnel, and exactly which tasks NATO would do, the diplomat said. The increase in the overall number of trainers would "scale up" the training and relieve pressure on coalition trainers.
The diplomat also said NATO is looking at providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to the coalition using an airborne warning and control system, or AWACS aircraft. NATO has 16 planes and officials are looking at how they could fill gaps left by the coalition.
NATO had been looking at a plan that would allow the alliance's planes to fly surveillance missions in other parts of the world to alleviate pressure on allies and allow them to focus on the Middle East. But the diplomat said many commanders said there was no need, and that the capability was most needed against the Islamic State.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters before the ministerial that he intended to ask allies to boost their participation in the anti-Islamic State coalition.
"I'm always asking for more. We'll continue to ask for more from everybody, including ourselves," Carter said.
The diplomat also talked about progress in other NATO efforts in the Middle East, including the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. By the Warsaw Summit in early July, the diplomat said NATO will have collected the $5 billion it needs to support the Afghan National Security Forces through 2020, which provides predictability for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Officials are also expected to announce at Warsaw that, even with the expected drawdown in U.S. forces, NATO will be able to maintain its current base force structure through 2017, which includes a central "hub" in Kabul and Bagram, as well as four spokes, two of which in Kandahar and Jalalabad are run by the U.S.
Officials are looking at aligning how the capabilities available can best help the coalition reach its goals in Afghanistan.
"What I'm forecasting is that three weeks from now, that process will result, and we will still be in the hub and four spokes. I believe we'll have sufficient resources," the diplomat said. "Now, how much we do and how we do it, we'll have to adjust to the troops available."
Asked about war weariness among NATO allies, who have been in Afghanistan for 15 years, the diplomat said he has been "pleasantly reassured" by their commitment to stay there and follow through on the mission.