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Acting Pentagon Chief in Iraq to discuss US troop presence

U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan travels to Camp Morehead, Afghanistan, with U.S. Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the NATO Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, Feb. 11, 2019. (Lisa Ferdinando/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has arrived in Baghdad to consult with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi officials on the future U.S. troop presence in Iraq following withdrawal from neighboring Syria.

Shanahan flew in from Afghanistan on February 12 for a previously unannounced visit, after President Donald Trump caused anger in Baghdad earlier this month when he said that it was important to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq so that Washington can keep a close eye on Iran.

Iraqi President Barham Salih later said that the country’s constitution forbade the use of Iraq as a base to threaten the interests or security of neighboring states.

The United States has about 5,200 troops in Iraq to train and advise its security forces.

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“We are in Iraq at the invitation of the government and our interests are to build Iraqi security capability,” Shanahan told reporters traveling with him. “I want to hear firsthand from them about concerns, the political dynamics that they are facing.”

“Based on that we will obviously factor that into our planning,” he added.

In December, Trump surprised international allies by announcing he intended to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, where they have been helping a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against Islamic State and other militant groups.