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US announces drawdown of forces in Iraq

By September 10, 2020News, Print

As published by Kurdistan 24 by Laurie Mylroie

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The head of CENTCOM, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, announced on Wednesday that by month’s end, the US would reduce the number of its forces in Iraq from the current 5,200 to 3,000.

McKenzie attributed the draw-down to the “great progress” made by Iraqi forces in the fight against the so-called Islamic State and “our confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces’ increased ability to operate independently.”

McKenzie also affirmed that the US would continue its campaign, in conjunction with its local partners, to ensure the defeat of the terrorist organization in both Iraq and Syria.

When Trump assumed office in January 2017, there were also roughly 3,000 US troops in Iraq. Although the Islamic State no longer controls territory, the US-led military campaign continues, with significantly more fighting taking place in Iraq than in Syria.

Read MoreCoalition statistics show fight against ISIS continues

Since earlier this year, the US has been consolidating its positions in Iraq, moving troops to a smaller number of bigger bases, in part for the reasons McKenzie cited, but also as a force protection measure.

The Erbil Air Base is one of the major sites that the Coalition, formally known as Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), will continue to use, and the base has been reinforced with a Patriot missile defense system.

Read More: Coalition to continue Iraq operations, as Patriot missiles arrive, and base consolidation proceeds

Earlier this week, CJTF-OIR announced that it was also establishing a centralized advising center in Erbil, in addition to the one in Baghdad.

McKenzie spoke at a ceremony on Wednesday in Baghdad, in which Lt. Gen. Paul Calvert took over command of CJTF-OIR from Lt. Gen. Pat White, who has led it for the past year.

McKenzie also announced that the US would reduce the number of its troops in Afghanistan from 8,600 to 4,500 by the end of October.

The announcements—on the eve of the nineteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks—fulfill, in part, a 2016 campaign promise by US President Donald Trump to end America’s “endless wars” in the Middle East. Notably, the withdrawal announcements come as Washington enters a hot election season, enfevered by the coronavirus pandemic and the charge that Trump has seriously mishandled it.

Another objective in reducing the US military presence in the Middle East is to focus more defense resources against “peer competitors”—i.e. Russia and China, which the Trump administration has identified as increasingly serious rivals.

However, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration, writing earlier this month for the Hoover Institution, charged that the US “pivot away from the Middle East” has led to “the Russian-Iranian domination of Syria, a growing Russian role in Egypt, and the division of Libya between forces backed by Russia and those backed by Turkey,” while he also criticized the Trump administration for abandoning “the Kurdish allies who enabled us to eject ISIS from Raqqa.”

Wolfowitz also rebuked Martin Indyk, who was Senior Director of Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council in the first years of Bill Clinton’s term, before he became US ambassador to Israel in April 1995, and then Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in October 1997.

“Surprising, we are told by Martin Indyk,” Wolfowitz wrote, “that ‘the Middle East isn’t worth it anymore,’ because ‘the free flow of their oil is no longer a vital [US] interest.’”

Of course, that is an extremely narrow view of US interests, which would certainly include protecting the US homeland against terrorism (the conspirators’ planning for the 9/11 attacks began on Indyk’s watch), as well as preventing the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear), to name but two—in addition to Wolfowitz’ complaint that as the US steps away from the region, others, including Russia, step in.

Mick Mulroy, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, a retired CIA Paramilitary Officer, and now an ABC News National Security Analyst, advised Kurdistan 24 similarly.

Calling the decision to reduce troops in Iraq to 3,000 “a key milestone,” reflecting US “confidence in Iraq’s security forces,” Mulroy also cautioned, “It is critical that we maintain enough of our forces in Iraq to ensure that ISIS can never again regain its territory in Iraq or Syria.”

“We also need to maintain our strong relationship with the Iraqi military to help counter Iran’s influence in Iraq,” Mulroy continued. “That influence is often counter to the interests of the Iraqi people.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany