President Biden said Monday the US combat mission in Iraq will conclude by the end of the year, an announcement that reflects the reality on the ground more than a major shift in US policy. Even before Biden took office, the main focus had been assisting Iraqi forces, not fighting on their behalf. For years, US troops have played support roles in Iraq and in neighboring Syria, which was the origin of the Islamic State group that swept across the border in 2014 and captured large swaths of Iraqi territory, prompting the US to send troops back to Iraq that year. Biden did not say if he planned to reduce the number of troops in Iraq, now about 2,500, the AP reports. The announcement comes on the heels of Biden's decision to withdraw fully from Afghanistan nearly 20 years after the US launched that war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Together, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have heavily taxed the American military and kept it from devoting more attention to a rising China, which the Biden administration calls the biggest long-term security challenge.
Speaking to reporters during an Oval Office session with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Biden said his administration remained committed to a partnership with Iraq—a relationship that has been increasingly complicated by Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups. The militias want all US troops out of Iraq immediately and have periodically attacked bases that house American troops. Dan Caldwell, a senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, said US troops will remain at risk. "Regardless of whether their deployment is called a combat mission, US troops will remain under regular attack as long as they remain in Iraq,” Caldwell said in a statement. Biden said the US military will continue to assist Iraq in its fight against ISIS. A joint US-Iraq statement said the security relationship will be focused on training, advising, and intelligence-sharing. "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," he said.
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