NATO defense ministers meeting in the French city of Nice appear to have reached a compromise over how to implement the alliance's training mission in Iraq that has been delayed by the refusal of some allies to send troops there. The alliance is also expected to announce that it is now ready to expand its peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan to the western part of the country.
NATO officials say that the 26 allies have now agreed that support for the alliance's commitment to train about 1,000 Iraqi officers a year can be accomplished in various ways.
The officials say at least 10 NATO members have pledged to supply instructors or other personnel for the training mission at a military academy outside Baghdad. Although NATO is seeking 300 trainers for the mission, the officials say that, so far, there are only 110 on the ground in Iraq.
Other countries, such as France, Germany and Spain, which have refused to dispatch troops to Iraq, are training or have offered to train Iraqi security personnel outside Iraq. Germany, for instance, is already training Iraqi soldiers in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, and France has offered to train Iraqi policemen in Qatar. Spain, on Wednesday, offered to train Iraqi de-mining personnel on Spanish soil.
Other countries say they will supply equipment or provide funding for the NATO training mission. NATO officials say the important thing is that every member state contribute one way or another to the training program.
NATO's Iraqi training mission was approved by the alliance's heads of state and government last year, but NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has struggled to get the commitments required to get the mission up and running.
The Secretary-General told the defense ministers Thursday that the allies must do more to provide forces for alliance operations once a political commitment is made to undertake those operations.
"This is the crucial point: operations - sometimes distant, frequently long-lasting, always demanding - are increasingly the alliance's principal concern, the acid test of its relevance in today's world," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "And the success of operations, in turn, depends directly upon the development of our military capabilities."
In contrast to its small Iraqi mission, the alliance's peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, involving 8,500 NATO troops, enjoy widespread support among the member states. But, even there, NATO has had trouble mustering the necessary men and materiel it needs to expand that force into western Afghanistan as part of a plan to gradually move into other Afghan regions by the end of this year.
NATO officials say, however, that Italy, Spain and Lithuania have now offered troops for the western Afghan operation and that some U.S. soldiers now involved in fighting remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida will be assigned to the alliance's western peacekeeping mission.
NATO officials also report progress on a U.S. proposal to eventually integrate the NATO peacekeepers with the much larger U.S.-led combat force in Afghanistan. The idea ran into criticism from France and Germany at a NATO meeting last year, but the officials say it is now being discussed seriously although details of how to combine the two commands still have to be worked out.