Daniel Davis: Killing of U.S. military members in Iraq should be followed by withdrawal of American forces

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Daniel Davis: Killing of U.S. military members in Iraq should be followed by withdrawal of American forces

American warplanes launched airstrikes in Iraq Friday morning (local time) against the Iranian-backed Kata’eb Hezbollah militia group, the Pentagon announced. The strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack Wednesday on a military base in Iraq that killed two members of the U.S. military and one member of the British military.

“The United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests, or our allies,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement. “As we have demonstrated in recent months, we will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region.”

But while the U.S. should always punish any individual or group that kills Americans, it is time we acknowledge what a growing chorus of experts have been saying: U.S. troops in Iraq should long ago have been withdrawn from harm’s way.

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Now that President Trump has ordered a punishing response against those responsible for the attack that killed our military members, it is critical that he order the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq before one more American loses his or her life in a mission that has no clear objective.

All that could possibly be accomplished by our troops has been accomplished. Every day we leave them there they will continue sitting in known locations with targets on their backs. President Trump didn’t put those troops there, but with a stroke of his pen he can safeguard them now.

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The problems started in 2014. President Barack Obama made a knee-jerk reaction and sent U.S. troops back into Iraq once the city of Mosul had been overrun and entire Iraqi military divisions melted in the face of comparatively weak ISIS forces. The ISIS advance in Syria and Iraq represented real and immediate threats – to Damascus and Baghdad, but not the U.S.

The White House even stated that Obama sent the troops back to Iraq not because of any threat to America, but “based upon the assessed needs of the Iraqi Security Forces." That should have been an immediate red flag. American troops should only be asked to risk their lives for the defense of American citizens or interests.

Even with the flawed rationale Obama used in sending troops to Iraq and Syria, once Trump assumed office he gave the troops the achievable mission of driving ISIS from its physical caliphate. That mission was successfully accomplished in late 2017. U.S. troops should then have been withdrawn.

Instead, after months of drift where the military had no identifiable mission at all, the Pentagon settled on another mission that was yet again disconnected from U.S. security: training and advising the Iraqi military. That was a job I performed back in 2009, when I led a team of Army specialists to train and advise an Iraqi border battalion on the Iran-Iraq border.

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On May 6 that year I wrote a letter to a former commander of mine explaining my intense frustration at the pointlessness of our mission. I acknowledged that once we leave, the Iraqi forces will abandon all we taught them and return to conducting their affairs as they had done prior to our arrival.

Senior U.S. leaders were the only ones in denial of this fact – a condition that has not changed in the years since my retirement for the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 21 years of active service.

Frankly stated, our military mission in Iraq is not helping keep America and our freedoms safe. Instead, our troops are risking – and too often losing – their lives for no gain to our country.

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It is beyond question that the Shiite militia that U.S. forces attacked Friday will again vow retribution and attack our troops in the future.

If our elected leaders truly “support the troops,” they should immediately withdraw our forces from Iraq and Syria. Not one more American should be asked to sacrifice his or her life for the benefit of Iraqi leaders who don’t value our presence much anyway.