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Head of US fight against Islamic State quits in further defense jolt

NYT reports Christopher Maier forced out; Pentagon says ‘will continue to engage with our partners and allies to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS’

IS fighters parade in commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicles down a main road in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, more than two weeks after taking over the country's second largest city,  June 23, 2014. (AP Photo)
IS fighters parade in commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicles down a main road in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, more than two weeks after taking over the country's second largest city, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The civilian official overseeing the Pentagon’s campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in the Middle East has resigned in the latest jolt to Pentagon leadership in the waning weeks of the Trump administration.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, on Monday accepted the resignation of Christopher Maier, who had provided policy oversight of the military’s counter-IS effort since March 2017.

Maier was director of the Defeat-ISIS Task Force, which has been disbanded. Its responsibilities have been absorbed by counterterrorism staffs headed by appointees whom US President Donald Trump placed in senior Pentagon positions in a shakeup that included his firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper on November 9.

Maier’s departure was first reported by CNN. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Maier had been forced out.

Christopher Maier, former director of the Defeat-ISIS Task Force (US Dept. of Defense)

In its statement, the Pentagon gave no reason for Maier’s departure but said the decision to disband the task force he led was a recognition of the “success of the military fight to destroy” the Islamic State’s grip on territory in Iraq and Syria. Critics say that while the militant group has lost its physical empire, it remains a threat and has been biding its time in search of ways to regroup and re-emerge.

“The Department of Defense will continue to engage with our partners and allies to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS and encourage the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters for prosecution,” the Pentagon said.

Nearly 900 US troops are still in Syria to work with local groups aiming to prevent an IS resurgence. The US also has about 3,000 troops in neighboring Iraq working with local security forces toward the same goal.

The counter-IS campaign began during the Obama administration and in some respects was accelerated by Trump.

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