Tanks and armored vehicles of the Iraqi forces, supported by the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries, advance towards the village of Sheikh Younis, south of Mosul, as the offensive to retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State group fighters commenced on February 19, 2017.
Iraqi forces rout ISIS from village near Mosul
01:49 - Source: CNN

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The US and NATO have begun discussions with Iraq about the possibility of a long presence

Trump directed the Pentagon to draw up a plan on fighting ISIS

Washington CNN  — 

The US military is contemplating a long-term presence in Iraq to stabilize the country after the anticipated defeat ISIS, America’s top military officer said Thursday.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said that both the US and NATO have begun discussions with Iraq about the possibility.

“We have, as has NATO, begun a dialogue about a long term commitment to grow the capacity, maintain the capacity of Iraqi Security Forces, but no decisions have been made yet,” Dunford told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington, his first time fielding questions since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

“Iraq has begun to speak, and you’ve heard Prime Minister (Haider) Abadi speak, about the international community continuing to support defense capacity building,” he added.

A NATO official told CNN Friday that, at Abadi’s request, the alliance had already begun training Iraqi troops this month and that NATO’s presence there “has no fixed end date.”

Dunford’s comments come days after Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the commander of the US-led counter-ISIS coalition, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, suggested in Baghdad that there would be continued US-Iraqi military collaboration even after the terror group is ejected from Mosul. Forces are currently advancing on the terror group there, the last major city it controls.

“The Iraqi people, the Iraqi military and the Iraqi political leadership recognizes what they’re up against and the value of the coalition and the partnership in particular with the United States, Mattis told reporters Monday on a trip to Baghdad. “I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other.”

The longer-term approach to stabilizing Iraq stands in stark contrast to policies pursued by President Barack Obama, who ran on a platform of getting US troops out of Iraq and campaigned for reelection based on having withdrawn all US troops in 2011.

Obama later had to recommit American forces upon the rise of ISIS, but kept their involvement limited. A longer assignment could trigger political pushback.

Dunford seemed to take a subtle swipe at Obama as well as offer a warning to his current commander in chief when he stressed Thursday that “we can’t be paralyzed” with the difficult decision in the fight against ISIS. Many in the military had pushed the Obama White House to take more forceful action to confront the terror group, something Trump has pledged to do.

Before deciding on a specific course, however, Trump directed the Pentagon, with input from the State Department and Treasury, to draw up a plan to be delivered Monday or Tuesday to the White House for consideration.

“It’s fair to say we’ll provide him a full range of options,” Dunford said, refusing to rule anything out.

A US defense official told CNN this week that the document would include strategies, goals and resources needed to accelerate the fight, potentially proposing an increase in resources for Syria. The plan is also expected to address ISIS franchises outside of Syria and Iraq, including in Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.

At Brookings, Dunford mentioned the need to weigh the views of regional players, such as key American ally Turkey, which opposes US-backed Kurdish groups currently carrying out some of the most effective fighting against ISIS in Syria.

“We are wrestling with all those issues, but at the end of the day we can’t be paralyzed by tough choices,” Dunford said.

CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.