It was decided during a meeting of NATO defense ministers last week that the alliance will take some weight off U.S. in Iraq. However, NATO cannot remain in Iraq without the Americans as the latter ensure security, Estonian Ambassador to NATO Kyllike Sillaste-Elling told "Välisilm" in an interview.
What will this reorganization of tasks in Iraq mean?
The ministers decided that the NATO mission will expand, mainly in the form of taking over training missions. NATO is currently training Iraqi soldiers and advising security and defense ministry structures. These mandates will be revisited to determine what else NATO could take over that would fit inside its current mandate.
Yes, strictly just training, an advisory role. All of it should reinforce Iraq's ability to ensure its own security.
It still seems like just a flag change. Why is it necessary? U.S. President Donald Trump wanted NATO to play a bigger role. Is that the reason? Or perhaps it's tied to Iraq's reactions following events in January, the drone strike?
It has been said for a while that the U.S.-led mission should change because the fight against Daesh (ISIS) is constantly changing. Such plans have existed for some time. I believe that it was simply found now that NATO should do a little more. NATO ministers agreed and also found that threats emanating from the south are considerable and should be addressed to a greater degree.
To what extent could the wish of the U.S. president have been a factor?
I believe it was definitely a factor. USA clearly wants to reshape these things a little, its participation in various operations, missions. It might not mean they want to do less. I believe they just want to reshape things to have a more sensible system.
Is it true the NATO mission is only possible because of the U.S. mission that ensures the safety of all these advisers?
Yes, that's just how it is. The American-led mission that goes well beyond the scope of the NATO mission ensures security, with the Iraqi security forces also contributing, and NATO cannot remain there alone, nor has it been discussed. Whenever we've talked to Iraq, it has always been clear that the U.S. coalition must remain together with the NATO coalition – they are either together in Iraq or they leave together. NATO could not handle it alone as its role is that of training and advise, not combat activity.
During the defense ministerial, it was also said that we will remain in Iraq only for as long as they want us there. At the same time, the Iraqi parliament has voted and sought the departure of the U.S.-led coalition. How welcome are the coalition and NATO in Iraq really?
The secretary general [of NATO] has spoken to the Iraqi PM on a couple of occasions and the Iraqi side has said very clearly that they want NATO to remain in Iraq and continue training because they realize that they can never ensure their own security otherwise. Today, we have confirmation that NATO is very welcome.
What does all of this hold for Estonia, both in the broader sense and for our Defense Forces members participating in these missions?
Estonia is participating in both Iraq missions – the U.S.-led Inherent Resolve and the NATO training mission. It has been said that we will be continuing in both missions this year. But time will tell. It is impossible to say today which functions will be transferred and how. It might affect us, while it also might not.
But I think we are not an exception here. All other allies are in more or less the same situation today. We must simply wait for the military analysis by local defense forces. NATO structures are also analyzing would be feasible and what not. We must exhibit some patience and see.
Do we have any idea when NATO will be able to continue its mission – the one that is currently on hold?
We also don't know that for the time being. /…/ Everyone agreed to temporarily pulling out from there, while everyone is also saying it's temporary. But when exactly will the commanders there be certain everyone can return, that it's safer now – even though the situation is always unstable there – we cannot say today.
Editor: Marcus Turovski