An evolving U.S. mission in Iraq may send some 10th Mountain Division soldiers home early, but nine-month brigade rotations will continue as long as Iraqi forces work to cleanse their war-torn country of Islamic State terrorists, according to the former commander of land forces in Iraq.
The recent defeat of ISIS fighters occupying Iraq prompted the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command (CJFLCC) headquarters to deactivate at the end of April.
The 10th Mountain's 3rd Brigade Combat Team is wrapping up its nine-month rotation and will soon return home to Fort Polk, Louisiana as scheduled. But portions of the recently arrived 10th Mountain Division headquarters battalion may be sent home early, before the end of its nine-month deployment, Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, former CJFLCC commander, told Military.com.
The former CJFLCC has merged into Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, so some soldiers in the battalion HQ may no longer be needed, he said.
"What this merge means is we do change our identity. We are not wearing the 10th Mountain patch ... we become part of the CJTF," Piatt said. "And some of those forces that we have over here, their positions will no longer be needed and, when their positions are no longer needed, they will begin to go home. We are here to achieve the mission, not to be here for a certain amount of time."
The next phase of the mission, known as Reliable Partnership, means U.S. and coalition forces will be "partnered [with] the Iraqi Security Forces at the strategic and operational level to make sure that they have the institutional structures in place to sustain the security they have fought so hard to achieve," Piatt said.
The ISF has greatly evolved under the recent test of extended combat with ISIS, he said.
"ISIS threatened to overrun this nation, and they were literally 40 kilometers or less from the capital, Baghdad," Piatt said. "It was the Iraqis themselves that mobilized, that fought back against this threat. Yes, with lots of help from the coalition. And they fought this enemy all the way back, liberated their cities, city after city, all the way up the Tigris River until the big fight in Mosul."
It was the Iraqi forces themselves that took back Mosul, street by street, he added.
"Nothing builds a professional military like a victory of that magnitude," Piatt said. "And it came at a cost, probably over 1,700 Iraqi Security Forces lost their lives just in Mosul."
Iraqi forces are now scouring the country in search of small pockets of ISIS fighters in hiding, which means that U.S. and coalition forces will take on a broader support role, he said.
The Iraqi Army doesn't "need coalition forces to accompany them and to fight alongside them; they are good at that. What they need is help with sustainment, planning operations, things that you would see at the operational and strategic level," Piatt said.
This means that the 3rd Cavalry Regiment stationed at Fort Hood will deploy to Iraq as scheduled to replace the 10th Mountain's 3rd BCT, he said.
Piatt said he could not speculate on how long Iraqi forces will need coalition support. For now, "I think deployments will stay scheduled," he said.
"What we have to understand is ISIS is not totally destroyed and the conditions that allowed ISIS to grow could still exist here," he continued. "So it's still not over because it's a critical phase of the operation. If you don't secure the peace, you could find yourself back at war."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.