Latvia to send 34 troops to NATO mission in Iraq

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Latvia is planning to participate in the latest iteration of the NATO mission in Iraq with a unit of 34 soldiers, news agency LETA said July 29.

The Ministry of Defense (AM) has prepared a draft project for Saeima on the participation of Latvian soldiers in the NATO mission in Iraq until November 1 2022.

AM said that in October 2016 NATO defense ministers approved training and security strengthening activities in Iraq and its region. In January 2017, mobile training groups got under way.

In July 2018, following the NATO summit, a decision was taken to engage in the training of Iraqi security forces on a wider scale and to extend the activities to date by granting them mission status, thereby establishing a NATO mission that was fully launched in October 2018.

Following the escalation of the security situation earlier this year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly asked NATO to step up its support for strengthening Iraqi security forces.

This NATO mission is a training and advice-giving mission that does not include combat tasks. The main tasks of the mission are the provision of support and advice for the efficient, sustainable, transparent and comprehensive establishment of Iraqi State Defense and Security Institutions and the civilian sector.

It contributes to Iraq's ability to fight terrorism effectively, particularly in the fight against the terrorist group Daesh, and contributes to Iraq's ability to stabilize the country as a whole, said the Defense Ministry. The total mission consists of between 550 and 600 military and civilian personnel and is headed by Canada until December of this year.

Denmark will take the helm of the mission from 2021.

Given Latvia's successful cooperation with Denmark in the global coalition operation “Inherent Resolve” in Iraq, Denmark has offered Latvia to join the mentioned NATO mission alongside the Danish contingent, starting in November this year.

AM spokesman Roberts Skraučs told LETA that since 2016 a small unit of Latvian soldiers was already participating in the Inherent Resolve operation in Iraq, where local security forces are trained.

The Latvian instructors were in this operation until the beginning of this year, but after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the security situation escalated and the Latvian soldiers returned to their homeland for a period of time. Latvia has not withdrawn from the operation, as the Saeima has decided to extend the deadline for participation in the counter-terrorism operation in Iraq until February 1 2022.

Given that currently the tasks of the Inherent Resolve operation are being optimized and the extension of the training functions of the NATO mission is being carried out, it is essential to refocus and provide support to the objectives and tasks pursued by NATO, said AM.

The Ministry said the security situation in Iraq remains fragile and, despite the significant improvement in Iraqi capabilities, the Iraqi Government nevertheless needs further support. Daesh works underground in Iraq, mainly through attacks in certain regions of northern, eastern and southern Iraq.

The National Armed Forces (NBS) plans to start participating in the mission with a command-size unit of 34 soldiers, but the unit can be increased to 40 soldiers if needed.

The planned objective of the NBS contingent would be to ensure the protection of forces by focusing on base protection and safe movement of mission advisers in the area.

Skraučs said that, at the moment, any of the major international missions and operations, namely Afghanistan and Mali, do not include movements outside the bases.

He explained that service in conflict zones was always associated with a higher risk. “NBS soldiers are being prepared for service in such areas, and Latvia already has experience in international operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that took place several years ago, where one of the tasks  was linked to movements outside the base,” said Skraučs.

Latvia's participation in the NATO mission will be secured from the budget allocated to the Defense Ministry.

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