US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter Wednesday called for NATO to do more in the fight against the Islamic State, as his country reels from a terrorist attack inspired by the extremist group.

A gunman who pledged support to Islamic State killed 49 people in Orlando's Pulse nightclub on Sunday, in the worst terrorist attack seen by the United States since September 11, 2001.

"The sooner we defeat the ISIL cancer at the source, the safer we'll make our homelands and our people," Carter told journalists in Brussels, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

Carter and his fellow NATO defence ministers on Wednesday paved the way for the Western military alliance to deploy AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) surveillance planes near Syria and return to Iraq to train local troops, in support of a US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.

The jihadist group is active in both Middle Eastern countries.

Carter expressed hope that both measures would be finalized by NATO leaders at a summit in Warsaw next month, but also said that he would like "to see NATO do more."

"I hope they get encouragement at Warsaw to keep accelerating as an organization," Carter said. "I believe there's going to be more that each of us as individual nations can do to hasten the destruction of ISIL."

NATO could for instance help with logistics, he noted.

But some countries - notably Germany - have been wary of direct NATO involvement in the US-led coalition, fearing that it could complicate the Syrian peace talks.

"We ... need to do some military planning work to coordinate the needs of the coalition with what NATO can offer," said the military alliance's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. "We are doing exactly that now."

Under current plans, the AWACS surveillance planes would be deployed only in Turkish and international airspace to help collect intelligence on activities in neighbouring Syria.

In Iraq, meanwhile, NATO training of local troops would help in "enhancing their capabilities to fight ISIL," Stoltenberg said.

NATO had been present in the conflict-plagued country from 2004 to 2011 with a training mission, but had to withdraw after failing to secure an agreement with Baghdad on the legal status of troops operating in the country.

NATO agreed last July to once again start providing training to Iraqi forces, but has so far carried this out only in neighbouring Jordan, offering advice on issues such as security sector reform, methods against explosive devices and military medicine.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked NATO to consider expanding the training mission into Iraq itself.

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