NATO Stepping Up to Fight Terrorism, Finally.

“All 28 NATO allies are members of the coalition, but the alliance as a formal member could become more involved, contributing equipment, training and the expertise it gained leading nations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

NATO leaders said on Thursday that the alliance was joining the fight against the Islamic State. Every nation among the alliance’s 28 member states already support the effort in Iraq and Syria in some way, and several fly daily bombing missions targeting the terrorist group.  In addition, some NATO countries, like France and the U.K., have special operations forces operating on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that joining the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition “will send a strong political message of NATO’s commitment to the fight against terrorism and also improve our coordination within the coalition.”  But he underscored that “it does not mean that NATO will engage in combat operations.” The alliance will instead establish a new intelligence unit to track foreign fighters in Europe and appoint a counterterrorism coordinator.

The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda.

Several diplomats told Reuters, “NATO as an institution will join the coalition,” said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. “The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States. France and Germany believe it is.”  A second diplomat said, “All 28 NATO ambassadors agreed in Brussels on NATO joining the coalition, paving the way for leaders to endorse the decision on Thursday.”

A senior French diplomat said Paris “was ready to accept NATO joining the coalition fighting Islamic State, but that its role would be limited to training and intelligence, things allies were already involved in.”

Flying to the NATO meeting in Brussels with President Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it would be an important step for the organization to join the U.S.-led, 68-nation coalition.  “I think they’re going to support NATO joining and becoming a formal member,” he said, referring to “a couple of countries that are still thinking it over” but not giving details.

All 28 NATO allies are members of the coalition, but the alliance as a formal member could become more involved, contributing equipment, training and the expertise it gained leading nations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also made the case for a non-combat role for the alliance in Syria and Iraq. “NATO joining the coalition will also provide a better platform for coordinating the activities of NATO allies in the fight against terrorism,” Stoltenberg said.

“It sends a strong and clear message of unity in the fight against terrorism and especially in light of the terrorist attacks in Manchester,” he said.

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Dr. Katherine Harris
Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is an OpsLens contributor, a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. She has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany. Academically, Dr. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from The University of Maryland European Division, a Master of Arts in International Relations from Boston University, and a Doctorate in Education from Rowan University with an emphasis in leadership and higher education in a global context.

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