Trump: US troops ‘fighting like never before’ in Iraq

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President Donald Trump makes remarks at a reception for U.S. Senators and their spouses in the East Room of the White House on March 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump offered rare public remarks about Iraq Tuesday, declaring to a group of senators gathered at the White House that the U.S. is performing “very well” in the country, which remains besieged by violence.

“We’re doing very well in Iraq,” Trump said at a reception for all U.S. senators and their spouses in the White House East Room, adding he’d just ended a long phone call with Defense Secretary James Mattis before appearing at the event.

Trump added that “our soldiers are fighting like never before” in Iraq, and praised what he characterized as a positive trajectory in the country.

It wasn’t clear what fighting Trump was referring to in his remarks, which appeared unscripted. The U.S. combat mission in Iraq ended in 2010 and American troops are now in the country primarily to advise and assist Iraqi forces.

During the Iraq War, which began in 2003, U.S. troops engaged in extended fighting across the country, battling an insurgency and later sectarian violence to secure areas in key cities and regions.

President Barack Obama declared an end to the combat mission in 2010, hoping to fulfill a campaign promise to withdraw U.S. troops. He was forced to send U.S. troops back to Iraq to help combat the rise of ISIS, but kept their mission limited.

At its peak, U.S. troop levels in Iraq stood near 166,000; the Obama administration capped the number of troops in Iraq in their current mission at around 5,000.

Though troops currently in Iraq aren’t officially carrying out a combat mission, they do face danger and limited engagement with enemy forces, particularly as they move closer to the front lines in Mosul, the northern city that Iraqi forces are working to liberate from ISIS.

Trump’s remarks Tuesday came as U.S. military officials acknowledged the U.S. was likely behind an airstrike that killed about 200 Iraqi civilians in Mosul on March 17. The incident has sparked fresh concern about civilian deaths as a result of the US-led air campaign against ISIS.

The president didn’t acknowledge those deaths in his remarks, instead praising the work of the U.S. military in Iraq.

“The results are very, very good,” Trump said. “I just wanted to let everyone know.”

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