The United States and several coalition countries want to maintain a military footprint in Iraq after the eventual defeat of the ISIS group, a top US general said Tuesday.
Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said the Iraqi government had expressed an interest in having US and coalition troops stay in the country.
“Our government is equally interested in that, as are several coalition governments (who) have expressed an interest in joining in that effort,” Townsend said in a video call from Baghdad.
Townsend, who heads the anti-ISIS coalition, added that discussions were in the final decision-making stages.
“I would anticipate that there will be a coalition presence here after the defeat of ISIS,” he said.
After Barack Obama completed a long-planned troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, the Iraqi security forces quickly weakened under then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
By the time ISIS attacked in 2014, the military was unable to mount a defense and many units turned and ran, often dumping precious weaponry and vehicles.
“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,” Townsend said.
Iraqi authorities are celebrating after declaring that security forces had driven ISIS from their one-time biggest stronghold of Mosul.
But the jubilation is tempered by the fact the fight will continue elsewhere.
“There are still pockets of resistance in Mosul, hold-outs, and hidden IEDs (bombs) that will take weeks to clear, as well as remaining ISIS enclaves in Hawijah and western Anbar,” Townsend said.
Currently, there are more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq, many of them advisors to the Iraqi security services.
Townsend said he anticipated the military presence to be smaller in the future and that troops would be housed in existing US facilities.
“We have a fairly robust footprint here that’s fairly well distributed around the country, mainly for the purpose of defeating ISIS,” he said.
“A future footprint would be smaller and probably use a subset of the bases that we have today.”