The U.S. military demobilized the command charged with overseeing American ground forces in Iraq this week, marking the end of major combat operations against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) with the intent to maintain a residual troop footprint in the country to prevent a resurgence of the jihadists.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which leads American military operations in the Middle East, celebrated the disbandment of the command with a ceremony on Monday, noting in a statement:
The Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command (CJFLCC) Headquarters was deactivated today at a ceremony in Baghdad, signifying the end of major combat operations against ISIS in Iraq and acknowledging the changing composition and responsibilities of the Coalition.
CJFLCC was responsible for Coalition land force operations in support of the Iraqi Security Force (ISF) during the campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and liberate more than 4.5 million Iraqis subject to ISIS’s brutal control.
According to CENTCOM, the alliance has retaken “more than 90 percent” of the territory once controlled by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Nevertheless, Gen. Joseph Votel, the CENTCOM commander, and other U.S. military officials have acknowledged that the terrorist group still poses a threat in the region.
The Washington Post (WaPo) reported Monday:
While the [ground forces] command’s closure marked a milestone in the fight against the militant group, U.S. officials say the battle isn’t finished.
The equivalent-level special operations task force the U.S. military is using to finish off the Islamic State in Syria remains active, as does the higher-level command that oversees the broader campaign against the Islamic State in both countries.
While U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed a desire to bring the estimated 2,000 American troops home from Syria, he has been less vocal about the substantially larger presence (about 5,200) in Iraq.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers last week he is in favor of maintaining a residual U.S. force in Iraq with a phased withdrawal over time based on conditions on the ground.
“It will be augmented right now by a NATO training element that is there so that it won’t be just the Americans,” he added.
Secretary Mattis indicated that the United States has suppressed ISIS in Iraq, but added that the “the fight goes on.”
“You’ll see increased operations on the Iraq side of the border” in the days ahead, Mattis also told the lawmakers on April 26, noting that the U.S. will also “expand” its offensive in Syria.