Commander: Troops Needed to ‘Degrade’ ISIS Forces
In a press briefing at the Pentagon today, African Command leader Gen. Thomas Waldhauser announced that the US intends to keep ground troops in Libya for the foreseeable future to support “friendly forces,” and to “degrade” the ISIS forces that remain in the country.
Waldhauser did not specify how many US troops are in Libya now, or how many will stay, but did estimate that there were less than 200 ISIS fighters left in Libya. The US had announced the end of the anti-ISIS campaign in Libya back in December, but never fully withdrew from the country.
The US forces were in Libya trying to help the “unity” government defeat ISIS in the city of Sirte. US officials repeatedly claimed the city was totally surrounded, and that no ISIS fighters would get away, though when the fighting finally ended, a substantial number of ISIS fighters did in fact get away.
Waldhauser hinted that the US operations in Libya would primarily be airstrikes going forward, saying that the US needs to have troops on the ground for “precision airstrikes” and “close-air support operations.” He added that the last US airstrikes, in January, involved US troops meeting face-to-face with allies on coordinating the strikes.
Insists Keeping Troops in Iraq Is in the ‘National Interest’
With US officials still hopeful that Iraq’s ongoing offensive in Mosul is the beginning of the end of ISIS’ presence in that country, top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, are also eager to point out that it’s not going to mean the end of the US military presence in Iraq.
In comments to Congressional committees over the course of the week, Mattis was very clear about the need to keep US troops in Iraq, calling it a “national interest” and insisting US forces need to stabilize Iraq, while downplaying the idea that this would be nation-building.
It’s not going to be a short process either. While Mattis wasn’t very specific on how long this post-ISIS US military presence would last, he made it clear that it would be “years,” and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Joe Dunford said the same thing later.
Pentagon officials have been insisting since last year that the deployment to Iraq this time is more or less permanent. That they are couching this as a matter of “years” now does not necessarily mean that the timespan is going to be finite, but that they don’t want to admit, believing the war is closer to ending, that they intend to stay in an open-ended manner.