Foreign Policy

Strikes on U.S. Troops Show the Need To Withdraw From Iraq and Syria

Biden rightly stuck to his guns when he defended the long-overdue U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but he fails to apply the same logic elsewhere.


Just days into 2022, multiple military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria came under attack. Two drones carrying explosives were destroyed last Tuesday as they headed toward U.S. troops in western Iraq. The next day, rockets and indirect fire hit bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria. And last Monday, two armed drones were shot down as they approached a facility housing American advisers at the airport in Baghdad.

Though there were no casualties, the Iran-backed militias behind the attacks have made clear that they will continue. That alone should encourage the Biden administration to get American soldiers out of harm's way—and if it doesn't, the faulty justifications keeping troops in Iraq and Syria should.

Last week's attacks show how a continued U.S. troop presence in the Middle East invites danger. Americans and Iran-linked groups have exchanged many attacks in recent years, especially after former President Donald Trump ordered the January 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Last week's skirmishes are the latest installment. According to the Associated Press, the drones shot down near the Baghdad airport were decorated with the words "Soleimani's revenge" and "revenge operations for our leaders."

"It is certainly possible that [the increased frequency of attacks] could be related to the anniversary of the Soleimani strike," said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby in a January 5 statement. "It is certainly possible that it could be related to the change in mission."

The change in question was marketed as a significant shift in U.S. activities in Iraq, but it amounted to little more than an on-paper adjustment. President Joe Biden announced last summer that U.S. military forces in Iraq would be shifting to a noncombat mission, with American troops focused on "training and advising" the Iraqi Security Forces. Around 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq and will be there for the foreseeable future, according to Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie.

Dan Caldwell, vice president of foreign policy at Stand Together and a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, calls this change in mission "a distinction without a difference" and says "an American military presence in Iraq and Syria is not required for our safety nor for the protection of our vital national interests." Beyond this, Caldwell notes, "our stated mission [in Iraq] is to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces to counter ISIS. But ISIS's caliphate is destroyed and the Iraqi Security Forces are often allied with the very militias trying to kill American troops in Iraq."

Meanwhile, roughly 900 U.S. troops are still stationed in Syria. Biden officials say a withdrawal from that country is unlikely anytime soon. These troops too are theoretically there to fight the Islamic State, even though the group was effectively defeated years ago. The Islamic State has not held territory in Iraq or Syria since 2019.

"We are long overdue to declare victory and come home," says Gil Barndollar, a senior research fellow at Catholic University's Center for the Study of Statesmanship and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. "The remaining anti-ISIS mission is best left to Iraqi and Syrian forces."

"The United States needs to ruthlessly prioritize where and when it deploys military forces abroad," Barndollar adds. "Even for putatively low-risk advising missions."

Withdrawing from the two countries "would save lives, tens of billions of dollars, and allow the United States to focus on more urgent priorities at home and abroad," Caldwell argues. He says the Afghanistan withdrawal "was more than justified" despite the chaos seen as the country fell to the Taliban. The Islamic State is unlikely to mount a similar resurgence in the event of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Syria, and the possibility should not be used "as an excuse to [continue] to risk American lives in other endless wars that aren't necessary for our security."

Biden rightly stuck to his guns when he defended the long-overdue U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but he fails to apply the same logic to Iraq and Syria. In Afghanistan, Biden said last August, "the real choice" was "between leaving or escalating." The same is true in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has accomplished its mission in both countries. Keeping boots on the ground at this point will do little more than put American lives at risk.

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  1. Terrorist shrikes

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  2. “Joe doesn’t apply logic.” FIFY

  3. Lemme see if I have this right, because I can't possibly believe our foreign policy is this completely fucked up.

    Iran is attacking our troops via proxies in Iraq. The same Iran we are negotiating with, and are going to trust to uphold a nuke deal. That Iran?

    The state department is incompetent. Brain-Damaged Biden is living up to his name.

    1. So the one threatening to assassinate former presidents. And violated the treaty multiple times prior. We must give them billions in response.

    2. But they pinky swore to Obama that they wouldn't send those pallets of cast to the rebel groups in the form of weapons.

    3. As much as I agree with you Commenter_XY, our State Department isn't incompetent. It is pushing it's own agenda. As much as I can't stand Brandon, I really don't fault him for this. It has been going on far longer than Brandon's Administration. It is the main reason that I don't blame Hilary Clinton for Benghazi. She gets all of the blame for the attempted cover up, but, none for the incident it self.
      Our State Department has had their own agenda and goals for a long time. They really don't care which Party is in power, they only obey their orders when it suits them.

  4. Attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria show that crime family capo and golden-leg-haired civil rights prevaricator and push up champ Joe Biden is willing to bend over, kneel down, or get into whatever outrageous service position the Iranian Mullahs desire, in pursuit of any kind of nook-u-lar deal, even one that ratifies the Iranian nuclear program under the aegis of the UNSC powers and builds in a glide path for the theocrats in control of Iran to get the bomb. Just read the eye-popping accounts of the jejune stupidity of Biden’s chief negotiator and weep. We’re apparently so desperate to get a deal, any deal, that we’re blowing right past all previous postures of speed bump-like resistance and just agreeing to whatever the hell they want, eviscerating our unified position with the Europeans, while at the same time allowing Iranian proxies to attach us with impunity. Love him or hate him, we’ve sure come a long way from the Trump Presidency in a short time.

  5. Yep good old joe stuck to his guns to get us out of afghanistan. He didn't blow past the preageeed upon time line in order to have the withdraw be sep 11 only to move it up without notifying anyone....
    How many times to you have to repeat lies before you believe them

  6. Why is this happening? They don’t want us there. We should be out. What is Biden’s agenda? Ignite war with Iran. Everyone talks of tragedy in Afghanistan but what about our troops in Iraq that have literally been forgotten? You hear nothing of them after the Commander turned over everything to the Pzm on Dec 9 and then they were to be out by the 31st. Now the “mission” all of a sudden changes while families were awaiting for their loved ones with excitement but as in the past, we get let down because they are still there. We all were told there was to be no more combat, only to assist and advise their army, however, instead, they are fighting for their lives, so much more today than ever before on a daily basis . Do we want another Afghanistan situation? Soldiers have died that is not spoken of and kept mum. A group of upset and angry spouses and significant others are speaking up. We will be the ones dealing with their PTSD the day they make it home. Is there money in the budget allocated for that? I sure the hell hope so. If not, our representatives better be prepared as some soldiers have endured this travesty for three years straight with no allowable furloughs. Since this is so damn political; Yes, we want a red wave, but we don’t want it to be the blood of our soldiers
    Regards, A concerned wife who wants her husband home

  7. If I understand Fiona correctly we need to get out of the middle east because attacks prove we are not wanted, but also we must accept any and all immigrants wanted or not? How many immigrant murders would it take for this anti American POS to be consistent in her worldview, or is it a perfectly coherent "I hate America" worldview she's espousing?

    1. Brain dead liberal is brain dead.

  8. "Iran-backed militias behind the attacks"

    A 5kt. airburst at 2,500 feet over Tehran, would express our displeasure.

  9. Fight to win or go home.

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