NATO'S top military commander says the alliance is planning to train about 1000 Iraqi officers a year once an Iraqi military academy is set up in a Baghdad suburb. NATO's training mission in Iraq is likely to be smaller than what was originally anticipated.
U.S. General James Jones told reporters Thursday that developing a military academy for Iraq is one of the three main components of NATO's training mission there. The others, he said, are to channel supplies of military equipment to be donated by alliance members to the Iraqi security forces and to advise officers in the new Iraqi army.
General Jones says he does not know exactly when the military academy will be up-and-running because that, like other elements of the training mission, depends on the commitments made by NATO's member nations.
NATO's officer-training mission is supposed to complement the U.S.-led coalition's much bigger program aimed at training Iraqi security forces.
Still, General Jones thinks NATO's program, once it gets underway, will help improve Iraq's army by training up to 1000 officers a year.
"A thousand a year is pretty significant," he said. "That will make a significant contribution in and of itself."
General Jones would not say exactly how many NATO instructors will be sent to Iraq or how many troops will be deployed to protect and supply them. But he said the total number will be less than 3000.
"I said 3000 would be the maximum and it's going to be less than that, I think," he added. "The figure that was in the press was around 350 trainers. That would be included in whatever the total number is. And I think that figure will also be somewhat less than that as well."
General Jones says at least 16 of NATO's 26 member nations have indicated a willingness to take part in the training mission. Others, like Germany, have said they will train Iraqis outside of Iraq.
The general also says he hopes NATO can expand its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan to western provinces before parliamentary elections that are scheduled for April. He says he will need as many as 1000 extra troops for that expansion. But what he gets will depend on how much member nations are willing to contribute to the operation.