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January 4, 2022

Biden Orders End to Combat Role in Iraq

This change is a distinction without a difference.

U.S. forces have completed another transition, this one quietly ending combat operations in Iraq.

Joe Biden issued an order to end combat operations by the U.S.-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria — Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR) — on 31 December. That operation shifted its focus to “advise, assist, and enable” Iraqi security forces. However, unlike Biden’s disastrous surrender and retreat from Afghanistan last August, this change will not involve a significant reduction in the number of U.S. troops operating in Iraq.

Given Biden’s record of foreign policy failures, we should carefully evaluate changes directed by the Biden Defense Department. Fact is, the mission change in Iraq is a distinction without a difference. The announcement merely formalizes what had been the reality on the ground for some time. Removing the combat component from the mission doesn’t restrict the troops’ ability to defend themselves or support Iraqi Security Forces and provides clarity down the chain of command.

A parallel move suggests that the adjustments reflect a wiser approach to national security issues than was displayed in Afghanistan, perhaps due to less DC-level involvement in the process in this case. The name of the Special Operations Joint Task Force (SOJTF) supporting OIR was recently changed to SOJTF-Levant and its area of responsibility was broadened to include Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. These changes reflect the reality that jihadi terrorists don’t allow international borders to constrain their activities, and that effectively combatting them requires a similar construct.

While ISIS is not inconsequential, the real strategic threat in the region is Iran, which uses militias to pursue its objectives. The changes — particularly adding Lebanon to the existing Iraq and Syria portfolios — will encourage a better aligned and hopefully more effective effort against those proxies.

In the meantime, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin continues to ramp up his threats on the border with Ukraine, and the window for that possible invasion, which depends on frozen winter ground in order to move heavy armor, is fast approaching.

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