(CNSNews.com) – Two days after the State Department reiterated that U.S. forces will “remain in Syria until the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition made a similar commitment regarding Iraq.
“We’ll keep troops there [in Iraq] as long as we think they’re needed,” Reuters quoted Col. Sean Ryan as telling reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
“The main reason, after ISIS is defeated militarily, is the stabilization efforts and we still need to be there for that, so that’s one of the reasons we’ll maintain a presence,” Ryan added.
There are currently some 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq and around 2,000 in Syria.
NATO leaders at their recent summit in Brussels agreed to set up a non-combat training mission, to train Iraqis to better equip their own troops, in a bid to prevent the Sunni jihadists of ISIS or similar terrorist groups from re-emerging.
Canada offered to head up the mission, and Australia, Finland and Sweden were first to make contribution commitments.
The move came after Defense Secretary James Mattis early this year – at Iraq’s request – called on NATO colleagues to help efforts to stabilize Iraq, as combat operations against ISIS were being wound down.
Ryan said Sunday that, depending on when NATO partners’ forces arrive to take up the new training mission, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could be reduced.
In Syria meanwhile, U.S. troops are helping the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) mop up ISIS remnants in the area of Hajin, a town near the border with Iraq.
The ongoing “Operation Roundup,” launched last May 1, is designed to defeat ISIS in the remaining territory it holds in the area known as the Middle Euphrates River valley.
Ryan said the SDF forces were preparing for the Hajin offensive, but that progress has been hampered by a large numbers of IEDs planted by ISIS. Another tactic being deployed by the remaining terrorists is the use of caves and underground tunnels and shelters.
Many of the ISIS terrorists left in Hajin are foreign fighters whose “ideology is to stay and fight till the end,” he was quoted as saying.
‘This mission is ongoing and is not over’
On Friday, administration officials underlined that the U.S. mission in Syria continues.
“We’re remaining in Syria; the focus is the enduring defeat of ISIS,” U.S. special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, said during a teleconference briefing at the State Department.
“We still have not launched the final phase to defeat the physical caliphate,” he continued, saying that when it comes, “it will be a very significant military operation, because we have a significant number of ISIS fighters holed up in a final area of the Middle Euphrates Valley.”
Even once the last area is taken, McGurk said, “you have to train local forces to hold the ground to make sure that the area remains stabilized, so ISIS cannot return. So this mission is ongoing and is not over.”
Also taking part in the briefing, Acting Assistant Secretary David Satterfield stressed that the policy was President Trump’s.
“There should be no doubt as to the position of the president with respect to the broader issue of the U.S. enduring presence in Syria,” Sattersfield said. “We’re there for the defeat, the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
A similar message came from State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who said in a statement that Trump “has made clear that we are prepared to remain in Syria until the enduring defeat of ISIS, and we remain focused on ensuring the withdrawal of Iranian forces and their proxies.”
The reiteration of policy came as the department announced that coalition partners – with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the lead – have offered $300 million to help stabilize the Syrian territory won back from ISIS.
Trump has long called for partner countries to contribute more, and receipt of the commitments will allow the U.S. to redirect $230 that had been earmarked for Syrian recovery efforts – but which has been under review since late March – to what Nauert without elaborating called “other key foreign policy priorities.”
Aside from Saudi Arabia’s $100 million offer and $50 million from the UAE, other countries that have made contributions to the stabilization fund include Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Norway and Taiwan, as well as the European Union.
Also announced on Friday was the appointment of James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new “representative for Syria engagement.”
The role will include attempts to reinvigorate an international process aimed at ending the long, deadly and convoluted civil war in Syria.
Since 2011 an estimated half a million people have been killed in the conflict and more than 5.5 million people have fled the country.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad once looked to be headed for the exit, but Russian military intervention along with the support of Iran and its proxy terrorist militia Hezbollah helped to turn the tide, even as the U.S.-led coalition focused on the defeat of ISIS, both in Syria and Iraq.