- The Biden administration Pentagon has not signaled any effort to extract itself from Iraq despite a shift toward countering China, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- The Pentagon unveiled an overview of its budget request for the 2024 fiscal year on Monday, requesting roughly $400 million for the Army’s Counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Train and Equip fund.
- “The idea that we can walk and chew gum is kind of contradicted by the fact that we spent close to 20 years devoting most of our bandwidth to Middle East and, as a result, the United States Navy is a mess,” Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities, told the DCNF.
The Biden administration Pentagon has not signaled any effort to extract itself from Iraq despite a shift toward countering China that is largely reflected in rhetoric and the Pentagon’s budget proposals for the coming year, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
As March, 19-20 will mark 20 years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and was soon replaced with a war against terror, the government remains fragile, and the Islamic State (ISIS) and Iran-backed terrorist groups continually target U.S. troops, according to researchers at the American Enterprise Institute. U.S. troops stationed in Iraq are training government forces to prosecute a counterterrorism mission the Biden administration and some experts see as critical for American defense, but others said the Pentagon should better uphold pledges to focus resources on addressing the threat from Beijing.
U.S. military presence “is a security blanket for the government in Baghdad. It does absolutely nothing for American national security,” retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a senior fellow and military expert at Defense Priorities, told the DCNF. (RELATED: Iran’s Military Support For Terror Groups Still In Full Swing Despite Weapons Transfers To Russia)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pledged to continue the U.S. train-and-assist mission in Iraq at the government’s behest until ISIS is eliminated in a surprise visit to Baghdad earlier in March.
“They’re gonna stay there forever,” Davis said, adding the president “probably has no interest” in changing the status quo.
The U.S. has 2,500 troops in Iraq and an additional 900 in Syria whose mission is to advise local forces in countering ISIS, which still retains a presence despite losing mass amounts of territory to counterterrorism coalition forces in 2017. Since 2022, U.S. troops have operated in Iraq in a non-combat capacity to help stabilize areas liberated from ISIS and are prepared to continue advising and supporting the “Iraqi-led fight against terrorism,” Austin added.
ISIS militants have killed or wounded dozens of Iraqi troops in recent months, according to The Associated Press.
Iran-backed militias also ravage other parts of the state, some of which have attempted to target U.S. forces and the embassy in Baghdad.
In September, experts told the DCNF that ISIS had gone “underground” to focus on fundraising and recruiting, but that a resurgence in Iraq, made possible in part due to the lack of a strong central government, was a real possibility.
“They’re looking to step back up … as soon as the U.S. takes our eye off,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, had commented to the DCNF.
Wheels down in Baghdad. I’m here to reaffirm the U.S.-Iraq strategic partnership as we move toward a more secure, stable, and sovereign Iraq. pic.twitter.com/hJVJjefuyv
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) March 7, 2023
The Pentagon unveiled an overview of its budget request for the 2024 fiscal year on Monday, requesting roughly $400 million for the Army’s Counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Train and Equip fund, about $75 million less than Congress eventually approved for fiscal year 2023, budget documents show. In total, the Army requested $12 billion for overseas contingency operations, including both Train and Equip and Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. mission to combat ISIS.
“From what we see in FY2024 the Pentagon intends to continue to prosecute the counter-terrorism fight in Iraq and Syria,” Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s defense program, told the DCNF.
Overall, though, it’s restructuring to prepare for large-scale combat operations, like investing in long-range missiles and expanding partner programs in the Pacific, the documents show.
The Air Force also requested a decrease in funding for Middle East-focused programs like Inherent Resolve by 30% over the next three years to free up resources “toward the pacing challenge [of China] and making sure that we’re using our funds most effectively,” Kristyn Jones, the Air Force’s interim undersecretary, said during a budget briefing Monday.
“If there is one thing the Pentagon does well it is respond to external stimuli, and today the push is on fighting China,” Spoehr told the DCNF. “While the threat from China represents the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests, it is by no means the most likely, and the armed forces must be able to respond to the full range of threats that can harm U.S. national interests,” Spoehr said.
U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Michael Kurilla said threats in the Middle East have not abated at a hearing Thursday, according to Defense One. The threat includes not just Iran-backed militias and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but an ISIS branch that has secured a foothold in Afghanistan and become difficult to target since the U.S. military withdrew from the country in 2021.
However, Davis worried that devoting time and resources to supplying and conducting repeated training for rotational troops to counter “ankle biters” in the Middle East sapped focus from the largest threat.
No terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland have taken place, but a conflict with China could be devastating.
“The idea that we can walk and chew gum is kind of contradicted by the fact you know, we spent close to 20 years devoting most of our bandwidth to Middle East and as a result, the United States Navy is a mess,” Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities and Marine Corps veteran, told the DCNF.
.@SecDef: Late last year, in close coordination with the government of Iraq, the United States transitioned from a combat mission to an advise-and-assist mission. And did it ahead of schedule. pic.twitter.com/pJVRDBirhn
— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) April 1, 2022
The Senate completed a procedural vote Thursday in favor of repealing a pair of authorizations that allowed the president to take military action against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, paving a smooth path for the total revocation of the president’s war powers in Iraq.
The Pentagon declined to comment on concerns the legislation could constrict its ability to respond to threats in the Middle East, particularly those from Iran. But the White House said it supports the measure and the U.S. has no ongoing military operations that would be jeopardized by repealing the authorities.
The 2003 invasion succeeded in ousting dictator Saddam Hussein, but ravaged cities, led to thousands of civilian casualties and primed the population for a resurgence of jihadist ideologies, according to Reuters. ISIS quickly found a foothold in Iraq and captured swaths of territory in 2014.
The total cost of the war could reach $2.89 trillion by 2050 if the costs of medical care for U.S. veterans of the Iraq war is factored in, according to a recent report from Brown University. Researchers estimated that more than 500,000 people have been killed, with indirect casualties reaching into the millions.
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