NATO Chief: AWACS Will Aid Anti-Islamic State Operations

BRUSSELS (AP) -
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on Monday, June 27, 2016. (Eric Vidal, Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L.) meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on Monday. (Eric Vidal, Pool Photo via AP)

NATO leaders will approve the use of NATO AWACS surveillance aircraft to assist the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State terror group, the alliance’s secretary-general said Monday.

Jens Stoltenberg said he expects the alliance summit in Warsaw also to agree on a new role for NATO in the Central Mediterranean, where the European Union has deployed ships to halt human trafficking.

At a news conference at NATO headquarters, Stoltenberg outlined the ambitious agenda of the two-day summit, which opens Friday in the Polish capital.

Since the alliance’s last summit in September 2014 in Wales, NATO has embarked on the biggest reinforcement of its collective defense capabilities since the Cold War, spurred by a resurgent and unfriendly Russia, as well as the spread of Islamic extremism.

“We delivered a faster, a stronger and a more ready alliance,” Stoltenberg said. “We now need to take the next steps.”

The summit, to be attended by President Barack Obama and leaders of the 27 other NATO nations, comes at a moment of great uncertainty in Europe caused by the British public’s vote to leave the European Union.

The referendum’s outcome led British Prime Minister David Cameron to tender his resignation, but Stoltenberg said Monday he expects whoever succeeds Cameron to maintain Britain’s strong support for NATO.

Stoltenberg also said that after years of decline, defense spending by European NATO members and Canada is expected to rise this year by 3 percent, or $8 billion.

“But we have a very long way to go and we must keep up the momentum,” he cautioned.

The secretary-general said the alliance and Russia weren’t able to agree to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council before the summit, as NATO had wanted. But he said he hopes a meeting can be convened shortly afterward.