WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Iraqi leaders the U.S. will continue to work in concert with Baghdad in battling ISIS and other threats as long as they are welcome.
Shanahan met Tuesday with Iraqi leaders, many who are still angry over remarks made by President Donald Trump saying that U.S. troops pulled from Syria would relocate to a U.S. base in Iraq to spy on Iran.
“The conversations I’m hoping to have are about our U.S. presence. We are in Iraq at the invitation of the government and our interests are to build Iraqi security capability,” Shanahan told reporters en route to the meetings in Baghdad.
“I wanted to hear firsthand from them about concerns, the political dynamics that they’re facing and then, and based on that, we’ll obviously factor that into our planning,” Shanahan said. “And I want to talk to them about what are our abilities to enhance their security. And that’s our mission as well as how do we also….our coalition partners have a role…theirs is very important.”
Shanahan’s remarks were given to the small group of reporters traveling with him, known as a pool. Talk Media News is part of the larger pool and shares the material along with other outlets.
The Pentagon said the Tuesday meetings between Shanahan and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and other officials went well, with the focus on the growing bilateral security relationship.
“The partnership is focused on the mission of defeating ISIS, an effort supported by a global coalition of 74 nations,” a Pentagon statement said. “The leaders discussed a broad range of defense issues, including the need to further develop capabilities of Iraqi security forces. Secretary Shanahan reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to an independent, sovereign Iraq that is capable of defending itself.”
Shanahan, who became acting defense secretary on Jan. 1, visited Kabul on Monday to begin his first trip abroad in his new position.
His arrival in Baghdad coincides with the final push by the U.S-led anti-ISIS coalition in eastern Syria against the last land holdings by ISIS. Pentagon officials said the fierce battle has been squeezing the last pockets of ISIS east of the Euphrates River.
While Shanahan is on his maiden trip to the region, simultaneously Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of Central Command, is on a farewell trip. Votel retires from the military this spring.
Votel again warned that tens of thousands of ISIS troops remain on the loose in Syria and Iraq, and that the organization is far from defeated.
“They are dispersed and disaggregated, but there is leadership, there are fighters there, there are facilitators there,” Votel told reporters traveling with him, according to news reports.