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By Will Racke
President Donald Trump entered office promising to avoid costly nation-building efforts overseas, but his administration appears willing to deploy significant military resources to “stabilization” in Iraq after the Islamic State is driven from the country.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday U.S. forces will remain in Iraq following the military defeat of ISIS, whenever that happens, the Washington Examiner reported. Troops would stay in place in to prevent ISIS militants from re-establishing a foothold in the country.
“The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS,” Tillerson said at the Department of State.
Many Republicans and national security hawks criticized former President Barack Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2011, which they said allowed ISIS to emerge and overrun large swathes of the politically fragile country. Trump has hit his predecessor for the same reason, but has also characterized the decision to invade Iraq in the first place as one of the worst U.S. foreign policy blunders ever.
Tillerson’s announcement signals yet another change of course for the administration’s long-term plans in Iraq, though the secretary emphasized that post-ISIS operations would not constitute “nation-building,” a term that has fallen out of favor in the wake of U.S.-led military quagmires in the greater Middle East.
“Local leaders and local governments will take on the process of restoring their communities in the wake of ISIS with our support,” Tillerson said. “The development of a rejuvenated civil society in these places will lead to a disenfranchisement of ISIS and the emergence of stability and peace where there was once chaos and suffering.” (RELATED: Trump Won’t Work With Russia Against ISIS in Syria)
The commitment to a long-term troop presence in Iraq comes as the administration is stepping up force deployment to Syria to combat ISIS in that country. A comprehensive strategy has not been announced publicly, but the White House and Defense Department are reportedly considering sending 1,000 troops to support an offensive against the ISIS-held city of Raqqa.