President Joe Biden has announced on Monday that U.S. forces will end their combat mission in Iraq by the end of this year. It does not mean, however, that they will leave the country.
Biden shared his decision with reporters at the White House after a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Before arriving in the United States, al-Kadhimi argued that there was no longer any need for foreign combat missions in Iraq.
US Troops To Remain
U.S. troops will not make a complete return home just yet. Instead, they will remain in Iraq to train and assist the Iraqi forces in countering threats they continue to face in the region. The joint statement by the two countries’ leaders emphasized that further training, technical support and intelligence sharing will be part of the further plan for the presence of the U.S. military contingent.
The importance of continuing joint actions against Islamic State was particularly emphasized.
Although the government of Iraq announced the defeat of the Islamic State group’s armed forces in 2017 and the organization is today just a shadow of its former power, it still manages to carry out effective civil attacks, counting dozens of victims. Last week, more than 30 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in a crowded market outside Baghdad. This is the third attack of this type this year.
“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 said during the press conference.
Currently, approximately 2,500 American soldiers are stationing in Iraq. Last year, Donald Trump withdrew nearly 3,000 of them, significantly reducing the current contingent. It is not yet known how the change in the nature of the U.S. presence in Iraq will affect their numbers.
The Unstable Situation in Iraq
The Islamic State group is not the only problem with which the Iraqi authorities have grappled recently. Guerrilla troops supported by Iran are still a significant problem for Iraqi and U.S. forces. According to the representatives of the U.S. government, there have been five drone attacks on the U.S. military base since April this year. In June, the base responded by launching a counteroffensive against guerrilla soldiers gathered near the Iraq-Syria border.
Moreover, in recent months, public opinion in Iraq has been shaken by a series of hospital fires overwhelmed with patients infected with COVID-19. First, last July, an electrical short in one of the ventilators at a hospital in southern Iraq caused a fire that resulted in 92 deaths. Then, in April of this year at a hospital in Baghdad, a spark set fire to poorly stored oxygen canisters, resulting in a blaze of the entire building and more than 80 deaths.
Setting a precise date for the completion of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq could help al-Kadhimi rebuild the public support before the next election, scheduled for October.
Combat Mission Has Lasted Since 2014
Although former President Barack Obama ended the war in Iraq in 2011 — eight years after the invasion in 2003 — only three years later, he decided to send U.S. troops back. It happened as a response to the Islamic State group’s military campaign, which captured the large majority of the country’s northern and western territories.
Biden Withdraws Troops from Afghanistan
In April, Biden announced that this year — 20 years after its launch — the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan would end. The deadline to withdraw all troops was initially set for Sept. 11. However, it was later brought forward — according to the current plan, the last soldier will leave Afghanistan on Aug. 31.
Biden commented on the end of the longest war in U.S. history as follows: “I’m now the fourth United States President to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”