NATO leaders agreed Saturday to provide surveillance planes and military trainers in support of the international coalition fighting the Islamic State extremist group in Syria and Iraq, after long being wary of direct involvement in the effort.
"NATO has unique capabilities to make a difference," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. "We will provide greater support to our partners, so they can secure their countries and push back against violent extremism."
The military alliance's leaders agreed at a summit in Warsaw to send trainers back to Iraq, where NATO had been present from 2004 to 2011. A team will travel to Baghdad "soon" to start preparations, Stoltenberg said.
NATO agreed a year ago to resume training 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.
US President Barack Obama, whose country is leading the coalition against Islamic State, said that having the training move into Iraq will allow it to be "even more effective."
Islamic State gained a foothold in Iraq in 2014. The group, which has claimed responsibility for recent terrorist attacks in Europe, controls territory in neighbouring Syria too.
NATO leaders also agreed "in principle" to have their AWACS surveillance planes provide support to coalition forces, Stoltenberg said. The planes will operate in Turkish and international airspace to "look into the airspace over both Iraq and Syria," he added.
This will "improve our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance against ISIL," Obama said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
All NATO allies already contribute to the coalition, but the United States had long been keen to incorporate NATO itself into the effort. Countries such as Germany, however, have been wary of the alliance's direct involvement.
NATO had been active in the fight against terrorism before with its Active Endeavour operation in the Mediterranean Sea, which was tasked with monitoring civilian maritime traffic.
That mission is now being transformed into a more flexible operation called Sea Guardian, so that it can also tackle tasks like capacity building and intelligence gathering, Stoltenberg said.
It is additionally expected to help the European Union with its efforts to curb migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean.
"The alliance will increase our support to EU naval operations in the Mediterranean to stop arms traffickers and go after criminals that are exploiting desperate migrants," Obama said.
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