Biden: Response to Deadly Attack on Troops ‘Will Continue’—as U.S. to Maintain Forces in Iraq, Syria

It was also important as a statement of a continued U.S. commitment to sustain its military presence in the region, including in Iraq and Syria.
US President Joe Biden (C) speaks as King Abdullah II of Jordan listens in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 2024. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP)
US President Joe Biden (C) speaks as King Abdullah II of Jordan listens in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 2024. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – On Monday, President Joe Biden affirmed that the U.S. response “will continue” to the Jan. 28 attack on U.S. forces in northeast Jordan that killed three American soldiers.

The statement was significant in itself, But it was also important as a statement of a continued U.S. commitment to sustain its military presence in the region, including in Iraq and Syria.

That point was also affirmed on Monday by the Pentagon Press Secretary.

A Sky News Arabic report on Monday also made the same point: the series of meetings that have begun—the U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission (HMC)—do not deal with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. 

The U.S. position is at odds with what Baghdad is saying, and many journalists are inclined to believe Baghdad over Washington! Thus, the understanding of developments regarding this critical issue may be confused—to the detriment of Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

Kurds in Iraq have a strong interest in a continued U.S. military presence there, while the U.S. military presence in Syria, which is supportive of the Kurds in that country, depends on a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq.

However, Iraqi officials are under great pressure from Iran and its proxies. As the Institute for the Study of War has explained, “Iran and its so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to support their objective of expelling US forces from the Middle East.”

Biden’s Statement

Jordan is a long-time ally of the U.S., while it also has “historical” ties with the Kurdistan Region, as the Consul General in Erbil recently told Kurdistan 24.

Read More: Kurdistan Region, Jordan ties ‘historical,’ says envoy

Jordan’s King Abdullah II was in Washington on Monday, marking the first time an Arab leader has visited the U.S. since the war in Gaza began last October. As Biden and Abdullah addressed the White House press corps, most of the discussion involved the conflict in Gaza—how to stop the fighting, or at least suspend it for some time, and how to release the hostages held by Hamas.

Yet, with the King of Jordan standing at his side, Biden went out of his way to address a quite different subject.

“We are grateful for this friendship,” Biden said, speaking of the warm ties between Washington and Amman. “We saw that again just two weeks ago, when three brave American service members were killed in an attack at a military outpost in Jordan, close to the Syrian border, by radical militant groups backed by Iran, operating in Syria and Iraq.”

Notably, Biden identified that group as Iranian-backed. “Since then,” he added, “U.S. military forces have struck targets in Iraq and Syria, and our response will continue.”

Thus, on Feb. 2, the Biden administration launched its largest attack ever against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, striking some 85 targets in seven locations.

Read More: U.S. Says Attacks ‘Must Stop Right Now,’ as it Strikes IRGC, Militias in Iraq, Syria

Five days later, U.S. Special Forces struck a site in eastern Baghdad, which is predominantly Shi’ite and poorer. Al-Jazeera described that area as “a stronghold for armed factions.” 

The target of that drone, fired by U.S. Special Forces troops, was a Kata’ib Hizbollah leader, responsible for the terrorist group’s operations in Syria. The drone hit his car, setting it ablaze and killing him. 

Read More: Pentagon Details Results of U.S. Strikes in Iraq, Yemen

Since then, there have not been any attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, and, hence, no U.S. counter-strikes.

But in Syria, the situation is a bit different. On Feb. 5, Iranian-backed militias launched a drone attack that killed six members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s main partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

Read More: Iranian-backed militias behind drone attack that killed six SDF fighters in Syria: SDF

There was no U.S. response, and five days later, on Feb. 10, Iranian-backed militias launched six drones at U.S. troops based at Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor.  The drones were all intercepted by U.S. air defenses. But the matter did not end there. 

On Monday, the U.S. struck targets associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in eastern Syria, as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.

One consequence, as SOHR noted, was that a group of Shi’ite fighters from Afghanistan, many of them refugees in Iran and recruited by the IRGC, and who are known as the “Fatemiyoun Brigade,” left their headquarters in Deir ez-Zor to move to a more secure position.

Pentagon Statements

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani is a decent figure. After a year-long stalemate following Iraq’s 2021 elections, he became prime minister with the support of Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP.)

Read More: Iraqi PM-designate lauds Masoud Barzani—underscoring importance of KDP in Iraqi politics

But Sudani is under a great deal of pressure—from Iran and its proxies in Iraq. Indeed, as noted above, Tehran is exploiting the Gaza war to try to push the U.S. out of the Middle East.

So Washington and Baghdad have agreed to resume meetings of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission (HMC.) Their purpose is to transition from the current security situation, where a large anti-ISIS Coalition is based in Iraq, to a bilateral security partnership between the U.S. and Iraq.

The purpose of the talks is not, as U.S. officials have repeatedly said, to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. That was stated two weeks ago, when the talks were first announced, and it was repeated, again, on Monday, by Pentagon Press Secretary, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder. 

Read More: Pentagon: US, Iraq to Discuss Future Security Cooperation—not Troop Withdrawal 

On Monday, Ryder was asked about the HMC meeting on Sunday, and he replied that it “marks another important step along the path of transition”—that is transition from the anti-ISIS Coalition to a bilateral U.S.-Iraq security relationship.

The HMC meeting discussed three topics, Ryder explained: “the threat of ISIS, the operating environment; and Iraqi security forces capabilities.” 

“These talks are important," Ryder stressed, “as we look to discuss the transition of the Coalition military mission to the longer-term U.S.-Iraq bilateral security relationship.”