US to replace combat personnel with advisory mission-focused personnel

Withdrawal of US troops from Iraq draws closer

AFP/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - A US soldier walks at the Qayyarah air base, where US-led troops

The new US foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia appears to be largely along the lines of the Trump administration. Former US President Donald Trump was a fervent advocate of withdrawing all US troops from foreign countries, and in February 2020 the Trump Administration signed a "historic" agreement with the Taliban that called for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan within 14 months in exchange for the insurgent group's commitment to continue peace talks in Doha to reach an agreement with the government in Kabul.

Donald Trump, just months after leaving the White House, also ordered a troop drawdown in Iraq. The former US president has always been highly critical of US military interventions abroad, describing them as "costly and ineffective". With the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House, these decisions have not been reversed. Last April, the US president announced the total withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and set a deadline of 11 September.

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However, this same month, Joe Biden indicated that the withdrawal of the US army was already 90% complete and that therefore by 31 August there would no longer be a US military presence in the Central Asian country. In short, the US presence in Afghanistan will be reduced to some 650 soldiers who will be responsible for the security of the US Embassy in Kabul. Biden follows in the footsteps of the Trump Administration in Afghanistan and completes the task begun under the previous administration of withdrawing all US troops from Afghan soil.

In Iraq, the US has maintained around 2,500 troops since 2014 as part of an international coalition aimed at fighting Daesh. A presence that has become somewhat uncomfortable in recent years for the Baghdad government, which is under great pressure from the most extremist Shiite factions that want US troops to disappear, and which has also been greatly clouded by the assassination of senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad's international airport, which led the Iraqi Council of Representatives to approve two days later a non-binding resolution calling for an end to the US military presence in Iraq.

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In a move similar to that in Afghanistan, US and Iraqi government representatives are finalising a plan whereby US forces will withdraw their combat troops from Iraqi territory by the end of the year and have only an advisory presence. According to US Defence Department spokesman John Kirby, Mara Karlin, acting Under Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, received Iraqi National Security Advisor Qassem al-Araji and a military delegation yesterday to prepare the ground for a meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi and US President Joe Biden on Monday.


According to the statement, both sides 'reaffirmed the importance of the US-Iraq bilateral security relationship', as well as 'the long-term US-Iraqi security cooperation partnership and areas of cooperation beyond counterterrorism'. Despite mentioning long-term cooperation, both The Wall Street Journal and Politico have reported that the two countries intend to announce the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq on 26 July. These media outlets quote both US and Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, as saying that under this plan an unspecified number of US military personnel would remain in the country indefinitely to provide advisory and logistical support, as well as in the air force and intelligence and surveillance division in the fight against Daesh.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi previewed the decision during an interview where he said that "Iraq no longer needs US combat troops". "Iraqis are now ready to stand up and protect themselves. We no longer need American combat troops," the prime minister told the Washington Post. But he pointed out that "at the same time, we will continue to need intelligence support, training, capacity building and advice".

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Unlike in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of troops in Iraq will be carried out more subtly and the US military's role in the country will be advisory, with combat personnel being replaced by others focused on the advisory mission by the end of the year. The shadow of Daesh threatens the stability of Iraq, which continues to suffer attacks perpetrated by this extremist group. Last Tuesday, Daesh attacked a central Baghdad market, leaving at least 30 dead and 60 wounded.

The possible announcement of the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraqi soil would be a victory for the Iraqi prime minister, who would satisfy the most extremist Shiite factions and pave the way for the parliamentary elections scheduled for October.