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US defense secretary reaffirms commitment to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq

The US will uphold its commitments to withdraw all troops with a combat role from Iraq by the end of the year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Monday.

In a meeting with Iraqi Minister of Defense Jumah al-Jaburi on the sidelines of the annual Manama Dialogue summit in Bahrain, Austin reiterated the US’ support in the fight against ISIS.

US involvement in Iraq will consist of sharing intelligence, advice, and assistance with the Iraqi security forces, he said.

Austin also congratulated al-Jaburi on October’s election and condemned an attack on Iraq’s Prime Minister earlier this month.

In a speech at the forum, Austin sought to reassure allies in the Middle East that the US remains committed to the region amid an increased focus on tensions with China.

Gulf Arab states, heavily reliant on the US military umbrella, have expressed uncertainty about Biden’s focus on the region, especially after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Let’s be clear: America’s commitment to security in the Middle East is strong and sure,” Austin said.

He said the US was committed to countering Iran, even as Washington works to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue. But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all the options necessary to keep the United States secure,” Austin said.

Gulf states have asked for any deal to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and destabilizing behavior in the region.

While several US administrations have tried to move the focus away from the Middle East and towards the Pacific, Biden in August ended the longest US war, in Afghanistan.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of the Saudi intelligence service, attending the Manama security forum, welcomed verbal assurances but said “demonstrative actions are equally important.”

He cited the need to prevent Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis from obtaining arms.

With Reuters

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