By SAMYA KULLAB
IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition concluded a final round of technical talks to formally transition from a combat mission tasked to root out the Islamic State to an advisory mission to assist Iraqi forces, Iraqi security officials announced on Thursday.
Iraq’s National Security Advisor Qassim al-Araji tweeted that the talks — which centered on the transition — had concluded, formally ending the coalition’s combat mission. He said the coalition would continue providing assistance, advice and training for Iraqi forces.
The announcement reaffirms a July decision by the Biden administration to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by Dec. 31. There are roughly 2,500 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq. It is unclear how many will remain in the next phase of coalition assistance.
At Thursday’s talks the coalition said it was prepared to end the combat mission before the set deadline, said Kurdish Peshmurga Brig. Gen. Hazhar Ismail, who attended the meeting in Baghdad.
“They said we are ready starting from today,” he said.
But the formal end of the combat mission is unlikely to change the facts on the ground; the coalition stopped engaging in combat missions early in 2020. Since then, the main U.S. focus has been assisting Iraqi forces, not fighting on their behalf.
Iraqi security forces still require coalition air support to conduct strikes on IS targets and for intelligence gathering, both Iraqi and Kurdish security officials have said. They also need assistance maintaining US provided weaponry and equipment.
Iraq has witnessed an uptick in IS attacks lately across a stretch of disputed northern territory that has long served as a hotbed for terrorist activity.
The intention to shift from a U.S. combat role to one focused on training and advising the Iraqi security forces was announced earlier, in April, when a joint U.S.-Iraqi statement said this transition allowed for the removal from Iraq of any remaining U.S. combat forces on a timetable to be determined later.
For years, U.S. troops have played support roles in Iraq and in neighboring Syria, which was the origin of the Islamic State group that swept across the border in 2014 and captured large swaths of Iraqi territory, prompting the U.S. to send troops back to Iraq that year.
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