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Photograph: Photo by Utenriksdepartementet UD, used under CC BY-ND

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.

Islamic State gained a foothold in Iraq in 2014. The group, which has claimed responsibility for recent terrorist attacks in Europe, also controls territory in neighbouring Syria.

NATO leaders agreed "in principle" to also 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.

The United States has long been keen to incorporate NATO into the anti-IS coalition - which it leads - but countries such as Germany have been wary of the alliance's direct involvement.

NATO has long been active in the fight against terrorism 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.

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