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Biden: U.S. military’s combat mission in Iraq to end this year

File photo of 10th Mountain Division soldiers in Iraq
File photo of 10th Mountain Division soldiers in Iraq(WWNY)
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 3:48 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWNY) - President Joe Biden said Monday the U.S. military’s combat mission in Iraq will conclude by the end of the year, setting out a more precise timeline for American forces to formally step back in their fight against the Islamic State organization in Iraq.

The plan to shift the American military mission to a strictly advisory and training one by year’s end — with no U.S. troops in a combat role — will be spelled out in a broader communique to be issued by U.S. and Iraq following Biden’s White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday afternoon. That’s according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the still-unannounced plan.

“We’re not going to be by the end of the year in a combat mission,” said Biden, who noted U.S. forces will remain in the country to train and assist Iraqi forces as needed.

“Our shared fight against ISIS is critical for the stability of the region and our counterterrorism cooperation will continue even as we shift to this new phase that we’re going to be talking about,” Biden added.

The U.S. troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when then-President Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000. Biden not say how many U.S. troops would remain in Iraq when the combat mission is formally completed. The troop reduction may not be substantial because of the continuing advisory and training mission.

Right now, the 10th Mountain Division has some soldiers in Iraq.

However, there are no units the size of a brigade or larger. That’s according to Fort Drum Public Affairs.

It says the 10th had soldiers in Iraq for the initial invasion in 2003 and, since then, there have been a total of 12 brigade-size and above deployments of the 10th to that country.

The plan to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq follows Biden’s decision to withdraw fully from Afghanistan nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush launched that war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Less than two years later, Bush started the war in Iraq. Biden has vowed to continue counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East but shift more attention to China as a long-term security challenge.

The senior administration official said Iraqi security forces are “battle tested” and have proved themselves “capable” of protecting their country. Still, the Biden administration recognizes that IS remains a considerable threat, the official said.

Indeed, the organization is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017. Still, it has shown it can carry out high-casualty attacks. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens in a busy suburban Baghdad market.

The U.S. and Iraq agreed in April that the U.S. transition to a train-and-advise mission meant the U.S. combat role would end, but they didn’t settle on a timetable for completing that transition. The impending announcement comes less than three months before parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 10.

“America has helped Iraq,” al-Kadhimi said. “Together we fight and defeated” the Islamic State.

Al-Kadhimi faces no shortage of problems. Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq have stepped up attacks against U.S. forces in recent months, and a series of devastating hospital fires that left dozens of people dead and soaring coronavirus infections have added fresh layers of frustration for the nation.

For al-Kadhimi, the ability to offer the Iraqi public a date for the end of the U.S. combat presence could be a feather in his cap before the election.

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