WASHINGTON — The American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria halted its yearslong mission of attacking the Islamic State and training local forces in both countries Sunday as United States troops braced for retaliation from Iran after a strike that killed a powerful Iranian commander, military officials said.
In a statement, the American command said that after repeated attacks on Iraqi and American bases in past weeks, one of which killed an American contractor on Dec. 27, “we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.”
The move comes after the death last week of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, an Iranian security and intelligence commander responsible for the deaths of hundreds of troops over the years. About 5,200 troops in Iraq and several hundred in Syria are now focused on fortifying their outposts instead of pursuing remnants of the Islamic State.
The cessation of American operations against the Islamic State is likely to allow what remains of the terrorist group to reconstitute itself in the ungoverned spaces it flourishes in, much as it did when Turkey invaded northern Syria in October.
Helene Cooper and Rukmini Callimachi contributed reporting.