President Joe Biden said Monday the U.S. 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 U.S. policy.
Even before Biden took office, the main U.S. focus has been assisting Iraqi forces, not fighting on their behalf. And Biden did not say if he planned to reduce the number of troops in Iraq, now about 2,500.
The announcement comes on the heels of Biden’s decision to withdraw fully from Afghanistan nearly 20 years after the U.S. launched that war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Together, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have heavily taxed the U.S. military and kept it from devoting more attention to a rising China, which the Biden administration calls the biggest long-term security challenge.
For years, U.S. 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 U.S. to send troops back to Iraq that year.
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 U.S. troops out of Iraq immediately and have periodically attacked bases that house American troops.