Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced trip to Baghdad on Tuesday, where he promised to continue to battle the Islamic State until the group is defeated.
Austin’s trip comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, led by the United States, that ousted former leader Saddam Hussein.
“Wheels down in Baghdad. I’m here to reaffirm the U.S.-Iraq strategic partnership as we move toward a more secure, stable, and sovereign Iraq,” Austin tweeted, accompanying a video of him stepping off the plane and greeting Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, the U.S. commander in Iraq.
During the visit, Austin met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Defense Minister Thabet Muhammad Al-Abbasi.
Iraq has served as a point of friction between the U.S. and Iran, with Tehran’s influence in the region growing over the past two decades. Despite U.S. successes in ousting the group from territory it controlled six years ago, Islamic State fighters and sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Syria and Iraq, killing or wounding dozens of Iraqi troops in recent months.
“We’ll continue working to accomplish this mission together. Through the global coalition to defeat Daesh, we liberated more than 50,000 square kilometers from Daesh and freed more than 4.5 million Iraqis from their cruel grip,” Austin told reporters, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State.
In his address, Austin also underscored the United States’ long-term commitment to Iraq, vowing to defend the nation and outlast the extremist group.
“We continue to believe that Iraq’s greater integration with its Arab partners in the region will deliver increased stability, security, and prosperity, and it will pay dividends not only for Iraqi citizens, but for all people of the region,” he said, according to a readout.
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