BRUSSELS, Belgium - NATO said Thursday that it will expand its mission to train and equip the Iraqi army, which is struggling with problems that include weak leadership, rundown infrastructure and low troop morale.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced the plans after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who traveled to NATO headquarters in Brussels to request the alliance's help.
"NATO will continue and expand the training mission," de Hoop Scheffer said.
The move should help the United States, which had hoped for additional NATO assistance in the effort to bolster Iraq's army.
Neither Al-Maliki nor de Hoop Scheffer gave details about NATO's expanded role. But the alliance said that it was "favorably considering" an Iraqi request to include navy and air force leadership training, more police training, border security, anti-terrorism and defense institution building.
"We feel there is a need for more efforts, there is a need for more speedy operation in the equipping and training," al-Maliki told reporters. "We came here to improve and enhance work that is already under way."
About 1,000 soldiers deserted or refused to fight during a recent incursion into Basra that was meant to weaken a Shiite militia forces but ended with mixed results.
NATO started a training mission for Iraqi officers in 2004 and currently has about 170 instructors on the ground. The alliance also expanded its mission last year to include the training of gendarme-type police units.
More than 10,000 Iraqi officers have been trained, and the alliance also coordinates the supply of equipment from its members to the Iraqi army.
NATO leaders at a summit in Bucharest, Romania, this month extended the training mission through 2009.
De Hoop Scheffer stressed that NATO — which has 47,000 troops in Afghanistan — was not considering a combat role in Iraq. He said a NATO delegation would travel to Baghdad soon to work out the details.