‘Remember, this is a change in the mission, right? Not necessarily a changing physical posture,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday. Since 2020, the main U.S. focus has been assisting Iraqi forces, not fighting on their behalf. Iraqi security forces still require coalition air support to conduct strikes on IS targets and for intelligence gathering, both Iraqi and Kurdish security officials have said.
Photo: An Iraqi Terminal Attack Controller (left) and Joint Terminal Attack Controller communicate with air support during a live fire exercise held at Mosul Dam, Iraq on October 22, 2021. (Spc. Trevor Franklin/Army)
12 December 2021 | Samya Kullab | Military Times
IRBIL, Iraq — Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition concluded a final round of technical talks to formally transition from a combat mission tasked with rooting out the extremist Islamic State group to an advisory mission to assist Iraqi forces, security officials and the coalition announced Thursday.
The talks — which centered on the transition — formally end the coalition’s combat mission, tweeted Qassim al-Araji, Iraq’s national security advisor. He said the coalition would continue providing assistance, advice and training for Iraqi forces.
The announcement reaffirms a July decision by the Biden administration to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by Dec. 31. There are roughly 2,500 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq. It is unclear how many will remain in the next phase of coalition assistance.
“Many brave men and women gave their lives to ensure Daesh never returns, and as we complete our combat role, we will remain here to advise, assist and enable” the Iraqi Security Forces, said coalition commander Maj. Gen. John Brennan. He referred to IS by its Arabic acronym.
The war against IS was not over, he added. “Daesh is down, but not out.”
The coalition said Thursday it was prepared to end the combat mission before the set deadline, said Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga Big. Gen. Hazhar Ismail, who attended the meeting in Baghdad.
“They said we are ready starting from today,” he said.
But the formal end of the combat mission is unlikely to change the facts on the ground; the coalition stopped engaging in combat missions early in 2020. Since then, the main U.S. focus has been assisting Iraqi forces, not fighting on their behalf.
Iraqi security forces still require coalition air support to conduct strikes on IS targets and for intelligence gathering, both Iraqi and Kurdish security officials have said. They also need assistance maintaining U.S. provided weaponry and equipment.
Iraq has witnessed an uptick in IS attacks lately across a stretch of disputed northern territory that has long served as a hotbed for militant activity.
The intention to shift from a U.S. combat role to one focused on training and advising Iraqi security forces was announced earlier, in April, when a joint U.S.-Iraqi statement said this allowed for the removal from Iraq of any remaining U.S. combat forces on a timetable to be determined later.
For years, U.S. troops have played support roles in Iraq and in neighboring Syria, from where IS swept across the border in 2014 to capture large swaths of Iraqi territory, prompting the U.S. to send troops back to Iraq that year.