President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced Monday an agreement to reduce the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq by the end of the year.
Under the agreement, the U.S. will shift from directly fighting the Islamic State, better known as ISIS, alongside Iraqi forces to an advisory and training role.
“Our shared fight against ISIS is critical for the stability of the region and our counterterrorism cooperation will continue even as we shift to htis new phase we are going to be talking about,” Mr. Biden said ahead of an Oval Office meeting with the Iraqi leader.
Mr. Biden added that the U.S. is committed to ensuring a smooth election for Iraq when it holds its parliamentary vote in October.
“I’d like to thank the American people in behalf of all Iraq’s people,” Mr. Al-Kadhim said. “Today our nation is stronger than ever.”
America’s new role will be spelled out in a broad communique that will be issued later Monday.
“As this evolution continues, and as we formally end the combat mission and make clear that there are no American forces with a combat role in the country, Iraq has requested, and we very much agree, that they need continued training; support with logistics, intelligence, advisory capacity building — all of which will continue,” a senior administration official told reporters on a background call.
The official added that the Iraqi forces were “battle-tested” and “capable” of protecting their country. But keeping the troops in Iraq in an advisory capacity shows that the administration still recognizes the Islamic State as a threat, the official said.
Last week, the Islamist group claimed a bombing in Baghdad that killed at least 35 people.
The attack just reinforces the need for the U.S. to act in an advisory role in Iraq, the official said on the call. Still, the Islamic State has lost all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.
It is not known how many of the 2,500 troops currently in Iraq will remain. But Mr. Biden and Mr. al-Kadhimi will discuss a consolidation and redeployment strategy, the official said.
Over the next five months, the official said he anticipates “adjustments” and changes of command as the American troops adjust to their new role.
Mr. al-Kadhimi told the Associated Press in an interview published over the weekend that there is “no need” for foreign combat forces to remain in Iraq.
The move is the latest by Mr. Biden to end America’s involvement in the Middle East. Earlier this year, he announced plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.