President Joe Biden said on July 26 that American combat troops would leave Iraq sometime in 2021, coming weeks after troops departed Afghanistan, although he said some U.S. personnel would continue to work with Iraqi security forces in their fight against the ISIS terrorist group.
“We are not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden told Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi during a White House meeting. American forces, however, would “be available to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS.”
The president added that the United States is still committed to fighting terrorism in the region.
“We’re also committed to our security cooperation,” Biden said. 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.”
The U.S. military has approximately 2,500 American troops in Iraq as of now. Earlier this year, the Trump administration confirmed that it drew down the number of forces to 2,500 in Iraq.
During a press briefing on July 26, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to give details on how many would remain in the country by the end of this year in advisory or training roles.
“We feel this is a natural and next step in these ongoing strategic dialogues, and we are moving to a phase not where we are ending our partnership, we are maintaining a presence in Iraq with a different mission,” Psaki said. “This is a shift in mission, it is not a removal of our partnership or our presence or our close engagement with Iraqi leaders.”
The change in Iraq comes as the United States nearly finished its withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite some experts expressing fears that terrorism could flare again without any military presence. Meanwhile, some officials have warned that Taliban forces have made significant advances in recent weeks as U.S. troops pull out of the country.
During an interview with NPR on July 23, CIA Director William Burns acknowledged that the Taliban currently is in the “strongest military position that they’ve been in since 2001.” Afghan security forces who were trained by the United States have the capability to fend them off, he argued.
“The big question it seems to me and to all of my colleagues at CIA and across the intelligence community is whether or not those capabilities can be exercised with the kind of political willpower and unity of leadership that’s absolutely essential to resist the Taliban,” Burns told NPR.
In 2003, the military under the George W. Bush administration launched an operation in Iraq to topple then-leader Saddam Hussein but remained due to the rise of ISIS, which took over swaths of Syria and Iraq in the midst of the Syrian civil war starting in 2011. All combat operations were ceased in 2010 and most troops left in 2011, but a number of soldiers returned in 2014 to deal with the terrorist group.