ROME – NATO sent a first group of officers Saturday to begin the alliance's training mission for Iraqi forces.
The main part of the NATO Training Implementation Mission (search) — led by Dutch Air Force Maj. Gen. Carel Hilderink (search) and initially consisting of about 45 people — should deploy in Iraq next week, NATO said in a statement from Naples.
The first four officers left Saturday from a command center in the southern Italian city in what NATO called the official start of the training mission.
"The guys will essentially start work right away, establishing contact, offering advice and preparing the long-term training," spokesman Robert Pszczel said at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO leaders agreed to the mission at their summit in late June but had left details vague. The 26 NATO countries agreed a week ago to send the team after sidestepping a dispute between the United States and France over command of the alliance operation.
The mission members are being drawn from NATO military planning headquarters in southern Belgium as well as command centers in Naples and Norfolk, Va.
The team is to report back to NATO headquarters on Sept. 15 about proposed command links with the U.S.-led multinational force, which is expected to provide security. Washington was pushing for "unity of command" between the two, but Paris insists they be kept separate.