NATO may take on new air surveillance role in IS fight

Brussels (AFP) –


NATO's secretary general said Thursday that the alliance could expand its support for the US-led fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria with the deployment of sophisticated surveillance aircraft.

Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference at NATO's Brussels headquarters that the alliance's AWACS monitoring aircraft could be flown over "NATO territory and international airspace" to help the fight against the jihadist group.

AWACS are aircraft with powerful radars that allow them to monitor airspace for hundreds of kilometres around. They can also be converted into command posts for bombing raids and other air operations.

In February the alliance agreed "in principle" to a US request to deploy its AWACS air surveillance aircraft to help in the fight against IS.

The agreement stated that NATO planes would not be directly involved in monitoring jihadists, but would instead fill in for US and allied aircraft that would be re-tasked to gather intelligence over IS hotspots.

Several European NATO members have been wary of becoming too involved in the bloody fight against the Islamic State group.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday that "explicit and formal involvement of NATO in the fight against IS is certainly not the answer".

NATO decided not to act on a US request to fully join the anti-IS alliance, instead pledging to provide non-frontline support.

"On Iraq, we discussed the request by Prime Minister (Haider) Al-Abadi to expand our training and capacity-building into Iraq itself," said Stoltenberg.

"We agreed to send an assessment team to Iraq as soon as possible to explore the possibility of NATO training inside Iraq, and how to ensure that any such efforts would be complementary to what the global coalition is doing."

NATO is already involved in training Iraqi officers in Jordan.