Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is headed to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week for talks with allies on speeding up the campaign against ISIS and boosting troop strength in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Friday.
Earlier Friday, Mattis met with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, whose support will be crucial at the NATO talks. Von der Leyen's closed talks with Mattis followed on the meeting last week of German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel with new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Germany has sought assurances of continued U.S. support for NATO following remarks by President Dgermnonald Trump that the alliance is "obsolete," and his ongoing complaints about NATO members not paying their fair share for defense.
Despite Trump's remarks, Mattis has been upfront in stating that the U.S. commitment to NATO is solid and enduring to counter Russia and ease the concerns of the Baltic states and Poland on threats emanating from Moscow.
Mattis is scheduled to leave Tuesday for Brussels on what will be his second foreign trip since succeeding Ashton Carter as defense secretary.
Later in the week, Mattis will attend the Munich Security Conference, an annual event that bills itself as "a major global forum for the discussion of security policy." Vice President Mike Pence and a congressional delegation are expected to join Mattis in Munich.
At the Pentagon on Friday, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Mattis' trip "will underscore the commitment of the United States to our NATO alliance and to defeating ISIS."
On his first visit as commander in chief to the Pentagon on Jan. 27, Trump directed Mattis to draw up a plan within 30 days for an accelerated campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Afghanistan will also be on the agenda for the NATO meetings, according to Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and NATO's Resolute Support mission. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Nicholson said he is seeking a "few thousand" more troops for Afghanistan, either from the U.S. or allies.
The Europeans have made clear that how to deal with Trump will be on the agenda for the Munich Security Conference.
The conference's website states, "The conference agenda focuses on the future of trans-Atlantic relations and NATO after the election of Donald Trump, the state of European Union cooperation in security and defense matters, the Ukraine crisis and relations with Russia, the war in Syria, and the security situation in the Asia-Pacific."
Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to the U.S. and chairman of the conference, said in a statement, "The liberal order many of us have taken for granted is increasingly threatened from within and without. That is why it is so important to find ways to defend and strengthen the fundamental values of the West, and the institutions of a rules-based international system."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.