The U.S. is working to maintain its “international coalition” in order to prevent ISIS from reemerging, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Kathryn Wheelbarger, stressed in an interview with The Washington Times.
According to Wheelbarger, U.S. military officials and State Department diplomats are trying get commitments from all 79 coalition members to continue the group’s work. The official said that an agreement to extend the “Defeat ISIS” mission will likely be finalized during the NATO ministerial meeting next June.
“We expect the threat to evolve, [and] the importance of the coalition is our priority,” Wheelbarger said in the interview that was released on April 9.
Last December, President Donald Trump made a decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria. However, a backlash from senior officials in his administration and the negative reaction from the mainstream media forced him to make a U-turn and accept to keep up to 400 troops in the war-torn country.
Wheelbarger told the Washington Times that the efforts to keep the coalition intact were underway even when the Trump administration was planning to withdraw all forces from Syria. The statement reveals how many U.S. officials worked to reverse the withdrawal decision.
As for the coalition’s new tasks, Wheelbarger said that the US-led force will focus on economic and diplomatic support for countries and groups facing ISIS threat, like Iraq and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“We have to be able to use all the tools of governance to address the challenge,” said Wheelbarger.
The extension of the US-led coalition mission in Syria and Iraq will likely increase the tension in the Middle East. Many regional powers including the Damascus government, Iran and even Turkey believe that the U.S. should withdraw from Syria, at least.