The commander of anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, in an interview with the Fayetteville Observer said he hopes American troops have a role in Iraq long after ISIS is driven from that country.
Townsend, the head of the CJTF-OIR, or “Operation Inherent Resolve,” said the Islamic State was well on its way to defeat, and that he expects the total liberation of Mosul—once the Islamic State’s primary Iraqi stronghold—to be long complete by September, when the 18th Airborne Corps is expected to return to Fort Bragg and officially end its year-long mission participating in the fight to defeat ISIS.
The 18th Airborne, also commanded by Townsend, had a “significant presence” in Iraq, where it fought alongside, as well as trained and advised, Iraqi troops.
Townsend says it was the American withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that left the country defenseless to ISIS (apparently in spite of the fact that the U.S. shelled out a cool $25 billion training and equipping the Iraqi Army and police force), and that he would like to not repeat that mistake.
“We’ve seen that movie before,” Townsend told the Observer. “My thought is to try something different.”
That means keeping a “residual force” in Iraq for an unspecified period of time.
A report recently published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), entitled “The Fight Goes On: The Islamic State’s Continuing Military Efforts in Liberated Cities,” lays out the post-liberation stance the militant group has taken in cities from which it has been expelled. The group does not simply turn tail and leave, but re-adopts the insurgent tactics that were common in earlier stages of the War on Terror, before the 2014 ISIS blitzkrieg that captured wide swaths of territory for the group’s “state.”
While the conclusions of the report seem to fit Townsend’s recommendation to stay longer, without concrete goals or a rigid timetable it appears to be little more than an excuse to stay militarily involved in Iraq indefinitely. Similar to the experience in Afghanistan, U.S. officials keep finding new reasons to stay, making it ever-harder to extricate ourselves from the decades-long blunders ongoing in either country.
After a bloody, months-long operation that has seen the deaths of thousands of non-combatants and the devastation of civilian infrastructure, ISIS now controls less than two kilometers of territory in Mosul with only 100 fighters. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is expected to officially announce the city’s liberation within days, and Iraqis are already preparing to celebrate what the Iraqi government and U.S. coalition are presenting as a victory.
“Victory is very near, only 300 meters separate the security forces from the Tigris,” military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told Iraqi state TV.
Before the city can return to any semblance of normalcy, the police must first clean up the many corpses that litter the streets, as well as booby traps and explosives left behind after the fighting.
“Unfortunately until now there are families besieged and there are many discarded enemy corpses, and unfortunately many civilians have been martyred, so we must remove them,” Lt. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, the Iraqi federal police chief, told Reuters.
“The areas must be cleared of bombs,” Jawdat said. “We must make the areas safe so that civilians can return.”
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