Islamic State militants attacked a base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Sunday, killing two soldiers before US -led forces launched a wave of airstrikes to repel the assault, officials said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, are discussing “what the long-term USA presence would look like”, a US official told the AP.
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces pushed further into Mosul from the north on the second day of a new push to speed up the almost seven-month attempt to dislodge Daesh, commanders said Friday.
Late in January, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, declared the liberation of Mosul’s eastern side, or the left bank of Tigris, after over 100 days of fighting IS militants.
Iraqi forces say they’re trying to clear remaining civilians from the Old City, a district of narrow streets, to help simplify and accelerate the battle.
The Trump administration is poised to double down on USA commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, all but ensuring continued American military involvement in both countries for years to come.
The Pentagon has close to 7,000 troops in Iraq.
At the height of the surge of USA forces in 2007 to combat sectarian violence that almost tore Iraq apart, there were about 170,000 American troops in the country. That number dropped to 40,000 before complete troop withdrawal in 2011.
An American company helping secure the Iraqi base where F-16 fighter jets battle the Islamic State group turned a blind eye to alcohol smuggling, theft, security violations and allegations of sex trafficking. A U.S. soldier who was killed by an improvised explosive device in the city last week was described as part of “advise-and-assist” support to Iraqi troops by Military.com.
The news comes as Iraqi forces are struggling to push IS fighters out of a cluster of neighbourhoods in western Mosul that mark the last patch of significant urban terrain the group holds in Iraq, almost three years after the militants overran almost a third of the country.
“We want to maintain that partnership with Afghanistan and we want to ensure that Afghanistan reaches its potential, so that’s the objective of the strategy”, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Theresa Whelan told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.
Displaced Iraqis from the al-Haramat neighbourhood, north of Mosul, react after leaving their home as Iraqi forces advance towards the area during the ongoing offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters on May 5, 2017. “We are still advancing to liberate the other neighborhoods”, the officer said.
Leaving some kind of residual United States force in Iraq would be in tune with President Trump’s assertion during the presidential campaign that it was mistake for the United States to not leave a residual after it 2011 withdrawal.
Iraqi forces supported by the US-led worldwide coalition have moved to the final assault on Mosul as the forces try to retake the town from terrorists still staging resistance.