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NATO moves closer to Trump priority of fighting terrorism

NATO is stepping up its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) and other violent extremists by launching a new center in Naples. The hub is dedicated to facing challenges from North Africa and the Middle East.

The new command center at its Joint Force Command in Naples will focus on intelligence gathering and defense capacity building in states such as Iraq and Libya.

The "hub," as it's being called, is expected to consist of about 100 people honing in on potential threats in the volatile region, which NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says are "more complex than at any time since the end of the Cold War."

Another part of the new strategy will see NATO surveillance drones currently based in Sicily feeding back aerial information to hub experts for analysis.

A new NATO approach?

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded NATO make counter-terrorism its highest priority. These moves won't quite fulfill that requirement, but allies eager to please the US hope it at least scores some White House points.

  

Defense Secretary James Mattis addresses the press during a NATO defence ministers' meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels

Defense Secretary James Mattis addresses the press during NATO defense ministers' meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels

Ahead of a two-day meeting with the new US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg stressed that -  in addition to setting up the new capabilities - the alliance had "stood by the US in the fight against terrorism since the country was attacked in 2001." 

"We have been helping to fight terrorism in Afghanistan for almost 15 years," Stoltenberg said. "We are training Iraqi officers and supporting the counter-ISIL Coalition with AWACS surveillance planes."

Mattis is expected to unveil some additional specific requests over a two-day meeting with the NATO chief. Mattis recently made a blunt warning that defense spending by member states must rise or else transatlantic cooperation could suffer.

Words of caution

German Marshall Fund spokesman Bruno Lete said Trump may be damaging the global anti-terror effort even as he seeks to strengthen it. 

"Mr. Trump's intentions are honorable," Lete said. "He wants to end civil wars. He want to fight terrorism. So all in all that's fairly straightforward. The only problem is that until now some of the decisions that we've seen have achieved quite the opposite impact and have not brought stability."  He cites the travel ban against mostly Muslim countries and criticism of Islam as a religion.

Pauline Massart, deputy director for security and geopolitics at Friends of Europe, says the new focus on the south could be a worthwhile effort for the alliance.

"NATO needs to redefine what it's about today and what it's going to be about in the next 25 years," Massart told DW.  While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has provided NATO's "raison d'être" for some allies, others feel IS is an even bigger threat. Those views need to be accommodated, if not reconciled," she said. 

Massart added that European allies need to consider whether the EU is not a better place to coordinate counter-terrorism strategies.  "That is something we need to revisit," she suggested.

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