Foreign Policy

On Paper, Biden Is Ending the U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq. He's Actually Leaving American Troops in Danger.

Saying that American troops are in Iraq for "training and advising" and not "combat" might sound nice, but it doesn’t get them out of harm’s way.

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In a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq would draw to a close by the year's end. At face value, the move sounds much like Biden's push to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by August 31.

But the devil's in the details, and a closer look reveals that these troops won't be leaving Iraq. Rather, the Pentagon and other administration officials say they will remove a small number of the 2,500 American soldiers in Iraq, and will reclassify on paper the roles of those who remain. They won't be fighting anymore; they'll be "training and advising" the Iraqi Security Forces. When quizzed, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki wouldn't say how many American troops would stay in Iraq—signaling that there may not even be a meaningful drawdown, let alone a full departure.

What could've been a promising end to another bloody theater of U.S. involvement in the Middle East is actually an anticlimactic maintenance of the status quo. Held against Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal, the Iraq option seems even less sensible. If the president feels it's time for Afghans "to decide their future and how they want to run their country," and if he questions the sense in leaving American troops in Afghanistan where their lives are at risk, why isn't he applying that logic to Iraq?

Dan Caldwell, senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America and himself a veteran of the Iraq War, says an American troop presence in Iraq "is not required for our safety or conditions or prosperity," nor will it "fundamentally alter the direction in which Iraq is heading."

American troops began fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014, leading to the group's territorial defeat in 2019. The New York Times reports that U.S. officials maintain "there are no combat troops" in Iraq, but concede that "a small number of U.S. Special Operations Forces serving as advisers and trainers occasionally accompany Iraqi counterterrorism forces on combat missions against Islamic State fighters." Beyond this, proponents of involvement say the U.S. needs to counter the threats of Iran and Iran-backed militias. The mission isn't yet over, and the U.S. has invested so much money and manpower up to this point, so it's too soon for American forces to fully depart. So goes the forever war logic, and so goes the justification for staying entangled in Iraqi affairs.

Caldwell notes that leaving American boots on the ground, no matter the capacity they nominally fill, means putting them in harm's way. "American service members in Iraq will still likely be attacked frequently by rockets fired by Iraqi militias," he says, which "will not…make the distinction between combat and non-combat troops and will continue to view American forces in the country as easy targets."

"When I left Iraq from Al Asad Airbase in 2009," Caldwell continues, "the feeling was that the war was over and that we would not be in the country much longer. However, 12 years later, there are still American troops at Al Asad and they are under frequent attack."

Rockets hit the base in early July, proving that maintaining even a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq—reduced drastically from a December 2007 peak of 170,000 soldiers—carries risks. Though no American soldiers were injured or killed in that attack, it's only a matter of time before they are. Those lives are just as worth preserving as the troops coming home from Afghanistan, even if on paper they're not engaged in combat. To hostile parties in the Middle East, that distinction will mean nothing.

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26 responses to “On Paper, Biden Is Ending the U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq. He's Actually Leaving American Troops in Danger.

  1. On paper, Biden is old enough to remember Vietnam.

    One wonders if he can actually remember things, though.

    1. So, you haven’t seen him speak lately?

      1. He can remember having his butt wiped.

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  2. >>doesn’t get them out of harm’s way

    recurring theme. $$ > People

  3. They are staying to ensure training on anti racism and critical race theory. Leave no one behind.

  4. The iRack.

  5. Serving in iraq can’t possibly compare to being stationed in the violent hellscape that is the US capital building.

    1. +1 DOL

    2. +1 Tony, turd, sarc, jeff, MG. the new Queen Asshole and the other lefty shits.

      1. the new Queen Asshole; good one, but I wonder if they are all one and the same. No doubt Tony and Raspberry shit dinners are.

  6. If they are paid by the DOD, they are American Troops.
    Period.

  7. “On Paper, Biden Is Ending the U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq.

    In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they aren’t.

  8. Wonder how many contractors our gov. Is keeping there so they can continue to funnel our money to the war machine?

    1. Plenty, and most of these mercenaries are halfway to psychotic anyway. War crimes even more likely than with regular combat forces.

  9. U.S. troops out of Iraq
    U.N. out of U.S.

  10. Training and advising? Probably stuff like “Abdul, don’t throw your rifle down and run away at the first hint of trouble.”

  11. Well somebody has to stay behind and find those WMDs…I mean they’re bound to turn up any day now…

  12. I think it’s pretty obvious why we’re still in Iraq. Iran’s nuclear ambition is the threat we’re countering there.

  13. Back in the 1950’s and early 60’s Joe Biden was eligible for the draft. Anyone know how he avoided military service?

    1. Mental defects? He wasn’t sharp, even as a boy.

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  15. The less Biden changes, the fewer chances it has to get shagged all to hell.

    He reminds me of an old version of my brother-in-law. Dude is one of the most useless humans I’ve ever had the displeasure of working with; you get more done alone than fixing their mess.

    Good ol’ bull tits. Nobody needs you.

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