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NATO to use surveillance planes against Islamic State

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WARSAW: NATO leaders agreed to deploy sophisticated surveillance aircraft to support the US-led fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg said a summit of the 28 NATO leaders in Warsaw had formally approved a plan for the alliance’s AWACS planes to fly over international airspace and help the US-led coalition.

“We will provide AWACS support and the plan is to have them to flying over international airspace and Turkey and that will allow us to look into airspace in Iraq and Syria,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

The planes are one of the few concrete assets that NATO has, with most of its military hardware belonging to individual member states.

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

The Warsaw summit closing statement said that “NATO AWACS aircraft will be made available to support the Counter-ISIL Coalition.”

In May, NATO said the 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 IS but pressure has grown after deadly terror attacks in Paris and Brussels.

In Warsaw, NATO also agreed to take further steps to boost counter-terorism efforts in countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Stoltenberg said.

It would deploy a team to Baghdad to start a new training scheme in Iraq, which is battling IS jihadists.

“To the south we see failed and failing states. And millions left homeless and hopeless by terrorist groups like ISIL.” Stoltenberg said.

The alliance will also start providing support for Tunisian special forces and set up an intelligence ‘Fusion Centre’ in Tunisia.

NATO will further launch a maritime security operation in the Mediterranean to help deal with the migration crisis and the chaos in the waters off Libya.

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