By Dave DeCamp / Antiwar.com
President Biden penned an op-ed about his upcoming trip to the Middle East that was published in The Washington Post on Saturday, where he falsely claimed that US troops are not engaged in combat missions in the region.
The president wrote: “Next week, I will be the first president to visit the Middle East since 9/11 without US troops engaged in a combat mission there.”
Biden’s claim came not long after he updated Congress on the deployment of US combat troops. In a letter to Congress dated June 8, the president said US troops were stationed in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
In Yemen, Biden said that a “small number of United States military personnel are deployed to Yemen to conduct operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS.” He also mentioned that US forces were providing support to the Saudi-led coalition in a “non-combat role” by providing “military advice and limited information.”
In Iraq and Syria, Biden said US troops are “working by, with, and through local partners to conduct operations against” ISIS and al-Qaeda. At the end of 2021, the US formally ended its combat mission in Iraq, but all 2,500 troops that were stationed there stayed, and US operations on the ground didn’t really change.
In Syria, the US maintains an occupation force of about 1,000 troops and keeps a good portion of the eastern part of the country out of the hands of Damascus with the help of local Kurdish groups. While it’s easy to downplay the US role in Iraq, US troops in Syria are more often engaged in combat.
On June 16, US troops carried out a raid in northwestern Syria and captured a top ISIS leader, according to the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, known as Operation Inherent Resolve. US raids in northwest Syria are risky as they are far from US military bases in the eastern part of the country.
The US also continues to launch drone strikes in Syria against al-Qaeda affiliates in northwest Syria. According to US Central Command, a US drone strike killed a leader of al-Qaeda offshoot Hurras al-Din in Syria’s Idlib province.
Earlier in the year, the US was involved in a major ground battle between the Kurdish-led SDF and ISIS in northeastern Syria. Back in January, ISIS launched a major attack to gain control of a prison, and US ground troops helped Kurdish forces take it back.
Biden will be traveling to the Middle East from July 13-16, and he will visit Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia. A major aspect of his trip is pushing Israel-Saudi normalization and military cooperation against Iran. Biden said in the op-ed that he will be the first president to fly from Israel to Saudi Arabia and called the move “a small symbol of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world.”