On Dec. 9, 2021, the US-led combat mission in Iraq came to an official end after 6,850 days. But that momentous occasion did not equal a ticket home for the 2,500 U.S. troops still stationed in the country. Neither did it signal a change of mission for 900 troops currently serving in Syria.
"I expect that we will continue to provide some limited support to the Iraqis going forward," said U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Jr. "But again, it's going to be essentially, by and large, it's going to be a noncombatant process."
Iraq-based U.S. forces will pivot to a slightly different role, one they call "advise and assist." They'll be providing support to Iraqi forces as they continue to try and stamp out the enduring vestiges of ISIS, which was officially defeated in 2017 but is lately making a comeback. But Iran wants the U.S. out of the region.
"Iran still pursues a vision of ejecting us from the theater, and they see the principal battleground for that as being in Iraq," McKenzie explained. "And I believe they are under the view that they can increase friction in Iraq to where we will leave and that will not affect the nuclear negotiations that are underway. That's not a military issue. That's an issue for U.S. national leadership."
"But I think it's a dangerous position for the Iranians to maintain because I think they're not going to be able to decouple those two things," the general added.
At a rally, Iran's president said former President Trump and his top advisors should be charged with the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in 2020.
"The then-president of America, which is the main aggressor, murderer, and a criminal must be prosecuted and killed," said Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. "The sentence of God must be executed against him."
A massive memorial was held in Tehran on Monday for Soleimani. He was killed by a U.S. drone strike while visiting Iraq where he had overseen the terrorist war against U.S. troops for many years. During the so-called memorial event, American and Israeli flags were burned and the familiar chant of 'Death to America' echoed through the streets.
To add to the instability in the region, Popular Mobilization Forces backed by Iran, have been threatening violence if the U.S. did not pull out by the end of 2021. Now, they are making good on those threats.
Since the first week of January, missiles have been fired at U.S. bases in the region on an almost daily basis. So far, no injuries have been reported, as the killer drones were brought down by counter rocket, artillery, and mortar batteries which can fire more than 4,000 rounds per minute.
The U.S. is now striking back in retaliation, which shows the combat phase of this conflict might not be over after all.
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