Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend dashed hopes that the impending collapse of the Islamic State group might mean the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq, when he said on Tuesday that the United States is “interested” in maintaining a US military presence in Iraq after the eventual defeat of the Islamic State group.
“I would anticipate that there will be a coalition presence here after the defeat of the Islamic State group,” the general said on Tuesday. “This fight is far from over… there’s still hard work to be done.”
He said decisions over post Islamic State group plans for a U.S. presence in the country are in a “final decision-making” stage.
He claimed that US coalition forces were needed to prevent a “replay” of 2011 when U.S. forces began to withdraw from Iraq following a decade of bloody, devastating invasion and occupation. With Iraq left in a destabilized condition, the Islamic State group quickly rose up as a regional power.
All of us can look back to the end of 2011 when the US and coalition forces left Iraq the last time, and saw what played out in the intervening three years. I don’t think we want to replay that.
There are currently over 5,600 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.
“We have a fairly robust footprint here that’s fairly well distributed around the country,” Townsend said. He added that their presence is “mainly” purposed toward defeating the Islamic State group, and that a “future footprint” would be likely be smaller.
On July 10th the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the official defeat of the terrorist group in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the city from which the Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a so-called “caliphate” in 2014.
Lebanese Hezbollah leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also spoke Tuesday, accusing the United States of allowing “regional states” to fund and support the Islamic State group, although he did not refer to specific states or allies of the United States.
The United States has been involved in fighting combat against Islamic State group targets in Iraq since 2014, although the U.S. presence in the country has been an ongoing destructive and destabilizing force for several decades.