The United States will reduce its troop numbers in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 in September, its commander in West Asia announced on Wednesday, CNN reported.
“This reduced footprint allows us to continue advising and assisting our Iraqi partners in rooting out the final remnants of ISIS [Islamic State group] in Iraq and ensuring its enduring defeat,” General Frank McKenzie said. He added that the decision has been taken due to the United States’ confidence in the increased ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to operate independently.
In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq to overthrow President Saddam Hussein and eliminate weapons of mass destruction that the country allegedly possessed. However, no such weapons were found.
Last month, United States President Donald Trump reaffirmed that he planned to pull all troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, BBC reported. This is part of Trump’s 2016 election promise. In March, US forces had begun pulling back from bases across Iraq.
“In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and co-ordination with the government of Iraq and our coalition partners, the United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September,” McKenzie told reporters.
McKenzie added that the United States will continue to expand “partner capacity programmes”, and that its ultimate goal was to have Iraqi security forces who were capable of preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State group.
But he also linked the troop reductions to the tensions with Iraq’s neighbour Iran. “Over the last seven or eight months, we have had to devote resources to self-protection that we would otherwise devote for the counter-ISIS fight and we’ve had to pull back and our partners have had to pull back,” he said. “At the same time we’ve done things to harden our positions to make it more difficult for Iran to attack us in Iraq – but it has had an effect.”
Iran has allegedly carried out a few rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq this year.
An unidentified senior US administration official said that there could also be an announcement in a few days about troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.