United States President Joe Biden on Monday announced that the country’s combat missions in Iraq will conclude by the end of the year. The troops, however, will not completely pull out of the country but operate in an advisory role.
“Our role in Iraq will be as a – dealing with not – it’s just to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help, and to deal with ISIS [Islamic State] as it – as it arrives,” Biden told reporters.
However, there would be no major operational impact as even before Biden became the president, the US was assisting Iraqi forces and not fighting on their behalf, reported AP. At the press briefing, the president did not say if he was reducing the number of troops in the country that is now around 2,500.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki too did not say how many troops would remain in Iraq by year’s end. “The numbers will be driven by what is needed for the mission over time, so it is more about moving to a more advising and training capacity from what we have had over the last several years,” she said.
For years, US troops have engaged in supporting roles in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State originated and spread across the border in 2014, capturing large areas of Iraqi territory.
The agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to end US combat missions came three months after Biden announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by September. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have kept the US from devoting more attention to China, which the Biden administration has called the biggest long-term security challenge, according to AP.
“Our shared fight against ISIS is critical for the stability of the region and our counterterrorism operation will continue, even as we shift to this new phase we’re going to be talking about,” Biden added.
The announcement also came as al-Kadhimi has been facing increasing pressure from parties aligned with Iran who oppose the US’ military role in the country, reported Reuters. Earlier this month, US diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks. Analysts believed that the attacks were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militias.
Last week, the Iraqi prime minister had told AP that he believes it was time for the US to end up the combat missions down.
The US mission of training and advising Iraqi forces came when former President Barack Obama decided to send back troops to Iraq in 2014 after the Islamic State took over large areas of western and northern Iraq.
Obama had withdrawn the troops from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US invasion. In 2003, the US had invaded the country alleging that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was removed from power but no such weapons were found.
Meanwhile, Dan Caldwell, a senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, said the US troops will be at risk if they remain in Iraq. “An American military presence in Iraq is not necessary for our safety and only risks the loss of more American life,” he said in a statement.