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Biden says US ending Iraq combat missions by year’s end

U.S. Soldiers deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve await aerial extraction via CH-47 Chinook in Iraq, Oct. 31, 2018. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leland White)
July 26, 2021

On Monday, President Joe Biden said U.S. forces in Iraq would no longer be in combat zones, and would instead focus on training Iraqi government forces in their fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, known as ISIS.

During a White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Biden was asked how many U.S. troops would remain in Iraq by year’s end and how the U.S. military relationship with Iraq had changed after Biden met with Kadhimi. Biden said, “I think things are going well, our role in Iraq will be . . . to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal it ISIS as it arises but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat zone.”

Biden said, “We’ve been talking a lot, our foreign ministers, our cabinet members have been talking, we’re looking forward to seeing an election in October. We’re working very hard with the Iraqi government to make sure the [United Nations and the [Gulf Cooperation Council], we have oversight, that there’s full and fair elections.”

The Associated Press reported Khadimi also said, “There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” though he did not specifically announce a deadline for U.S. troops to leave the country. Khadimi said Iraq’s security forces and army can defend the country without U.S.-led coalition troops.

“The war against [the Islamic State] and the readiness of our forces requires a special timetable, and this depends on the negotiations that we will conduct in Washington,” Khadimi said.

“What we want from the U.S. presence in Iraq is to support our forces in training and developing their efficiency and capabilities, and in security cooperation,” Khadimi added.

Reuters reported that ahead of Kadhimi’s visit to the White House, a senior administration official told reporters, “If you look to where we were, where we had Apache helicopters in combat, when we had U.S. special forces doing regular operations, it’s a significant evolution. So by the end of the year we think we’ll be in a good place to really formally move into an advisory and capacity-building role.”

The senior administration official also told reporters, “Nobody is going to declare mission accomplished. The goal is the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq to advise and train with their Iraqi military counterparts.

As of January, the U.S. troop presence in Iraq had dropped to about 2,500 troops, a reduction from about 3,000 troops ordered by President Donald Trump during his final weeks in office.