July 23 (UPI) — The United States and Iraq are preparing a statement on plans to reduce the role of U.S. troops in Iraq to a purely advisory role by the end of 2021, officials of both nations said this week.
The announcement is expected on Monday when Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visits U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, the Wall Street Journal, Politico and Al-Monitor reported, citing U.S. officials and others involved in the decision.
A U.S. official said the plan calls for redefining the role of the approximately 2,500 U.S. troops in the country, instead of withdrawing them.
“It is not really a numerical adjustment but rather a functional clarification of what the force would be doing consistent with our strategic priorities,” an unnamed U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal.
The plan calls for an end to the 18-year U.S. combat mission in Iraq, and replacing it with logistical and advisory support, air support and surveillance capability in the Iraqi government’s conflict with the Islamic State.
“We don’t need any more fighters because we have those,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein told The Wall Street Journal. “What do we need? We need cooperation in the field of intelligence. We need help with training. We need troops to help us in the air.”
Kadhimi is balancing pressure from internal political factions eager to see all U.S. troops leave the country, and a continued need for U.S. military support, Politico noted on Friday.
It is intended that the United States and Iraq remain long-term military powers, a situation unlike that of neighboring Afghanistan, in which the U.S. presence has simply been reduced to about 600 troops whose responsibilities will include the guarding of the Kabul airport and the U.S. Embassy there.
U.S. training has made the Iraqi army capable and battle-tested, officials say, while towns in Afghanistan have steadily fallen to the Taliban during the U.S. withdrawal.
A military delegation led by Iraq’s national security adviser met with top Pentagon officials on Thursday to lay groundwork for the latest round of dialogue between the two governments, which will include discussion of the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters.
Discussions which included Iraqi national security adviser Qassem al-Araji and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mara Karlin were held on Thursday, Al-Monitor reported.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also attended the meeting.
Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein is scheduled to confer with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday for what is called the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, which Hussein previously said would concentrate on a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and a revision of the U.S. mission in Iraq.