Iraqi Military Reports Rocket Strike Near US Embassy

Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militia supporters are seen outside the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq, last year. (AP Photo/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Shortly after the Pentagon announced a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iraqi military reported on Tuesday that four rockets struck near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Two Iraqi security officials told NBC News the rockets landed just 2,000 feet from the American embassy and were intercepted by a counter rocket, artillery and mortar air defense system installed by the United States this year.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. There have been at least two Iraqi security officials wounded, according to unnamed officials.

Neither the White House nor the Defense Department immediately responded to requests for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Before the rockets were launched, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that the U.S. will draw down American troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan mere days before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller heaped effusive praise on President Donald Trump’s foreign policy before confirming the force reduction would go into effect Jan. 15, 2021.

U.S. troop levels in both Afghanistan and Iraq would be reduced to 2,500 service members in each country. There are currently 4,500 soldiers in Afghanistan and just over 3,000 in Iraq.

Though he did not take any questions from reporters during his briefing, Secretary Miller said the reduction was a decision made “based on the continuous engagement” of President Donald Trump with his national security cabinet over the last few months.

The decision to reduce troops in Afghanistan comes as violence steadily ticks upward in the region, despite a peace agreement brokered by the U.S. between the Taliban and the Afghan government this February.

The talks were largely panned by foreign policy experts as lofty and then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper was candid with reporters during a May press briefing when he said plainly that he felt the Taliban was actively failing to hold up its end of the diplomatic agreement.

Suicide bombings and gun battles in the streets of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, have persisted since at least May with dozens killed and hundreds injured.

Esper has since been fired by Trump in the wake of his election loss. But before he left, the Washington Post reported that he issued a classified memo to the White House urging troop levels to stay where they are. Consulting with other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Esper expressed concern that the conditions were not yet ripe for a drawdown and with ongoing violence in the region, a swift pull out could set multiple parties ill at ease.

The rockets fired near the U.S. Embassy in Iraq on Tuesday landed in the fortified Green Zone, an area that is home to the Iraqi government and various other foreign embassies.

The Iraqi military said in a statement they believe the four rockets came from the direction of a neighboring district, al-Amin al-Thaniyah.

Troop reduction plans from the White House have been met with bipartisan acrimony. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed the drawdown as premature from the chamber floor Monday, saying it would only serve to delight those who wish to do the United States harm.

“The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975. We’d be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, echoed those concerns in a statement Tuesday.

“Today’s announcement is a hasty move intended to undermine the incoming Biden administration,” he said. “It ought to surprise no one that this comes just days after President Trump fired top Pentagon officials who stood against his counterproductive plans.”

Hoyer added the withdrawal would leave the U.S.-allied government in Afghanistan in a “precarious position” to hold the line against the Taliban.

“This is the same dangerous cut-and-run action that President Trump employed in Syria, which led to further bloodshed and a sense of abandonment by our Kurdish allies, who fought so hard against ISIS,” Hoyer said. “Withdrawing troops from Iraq now would put our allies there at further risk as ISIS seeks to regroup.”

During his campaign, Biden indicated he would prefer to retain some U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq for counterterrorism purposes. He will be inaugurated just five days after troop numbers are reduced under the Trump administration’s order.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said in a statement late Tuesday that any decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan or Iraq should not be based on a “U.S. political calendar.”

“At a time when our adversaries are looking for every opportunity to exploit our weaknesses, the administration should reconsider and reverse this politically-motivated decision and avoid worsening our national security challenges,” Romney said.

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