The Pentagon is asking for more a billion dollars in a multi-year commitment to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), in a sign the U.S. role in Iraq and Syria is likely continue for the majority of President Donald Trump’s first term.
The budget provision is likely a facet of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Trump’s overarching strategy to defeat the Islamic State. The new budget request will provide the ISF with hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to help the ISF contain the fall out from the Islamic State’s defeat in the city of Mosul.
Mosul is the last major city in Iraq held by ISIS but experts warn a vibrant insurgency could still bedevil the country for decades. Iraq shares a border with Syria where ISIS continues to control wide swaths of territory and sectarian tensions continue to flare, which could give ISIS increased support if the government does not effectively re-administer the area.
ISIS came to be in the first place after former President Barack Obama withdrew all U.S. forces in 2011. Lacking U.S. forces to broker disagreements, the Iraqi government purged the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) of Sunni leadership, inflaming sectarian tensions with the large Sunni population in Anbar province.
The Pentagon’s budget explicitly references the necessity of a strong Iraqi Security Forces in post-ISIS noting that failing to provide the weapons could lead to “Iraqi instability, exacerbates sectarian divisions, contributes to extremism, and allows outside actors to destabilize the country.”
The hasty retreat, both diplomatically and militarily, from Baghdad resulted in the isolation of Sunnis, which subsidized the demoralization and corruption of the ISF. Inflamed sectarian tensions made Anbar province, previously inhospitable to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a sanctuary for the then-defeated terrorist organization. When ISIS stormed the city of Mosul in 2014, long-neglected Iraqi brigades dropped their weapons and fled.
“This is going to be a long fight,” Mattis warned the American people in a CBSNews interview Friday. “The problems that we confront are going to lead to an era of frequent skirmishing,” he said, continuing “we will do it through developing their capabilities, to do a lot of the fighting, we’ll help them with intelligence. Certainly, we can help train them for what they face.”
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