US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said US troops are “ready to remain in Iraq” in his remarks during an unannounced trip to Baghdad on Tuesday, according to the US press pool traveling with him.
Austin, the highest-ranking Cabinet official to visit the country since the start of the Biden administration, according to the press pool, said in a statement that he is in Iraq to “reaffirm the US-Iraq strategic partnership as we move toward a more secure, stable and sovereign Iraq.”
“Now looking forward, US forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq,” Austin said. “And these forces are operating in a non combat, advise assist and enable role to support the Iraqi led fight against terrorism. This is a critical mission. And we’re proud to support our Iraqi partners.”
He added, “The United States will continue to strengthen and broaden our partnerships in support of Iraqi security, stability and sovereignty.”
Austin met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and is expected to meet other senior officials while he is in the country. The meeting with the Iraqi prime minister was not on camera, according to the pool traveling with the secretary.
After his visit to Baghdad, Austin will return to Amman, Jordan, where he started his trip to the Middle East on Sunday.
This story has been updated with additional details.