The U.S. military plans to withdraw more than 2,000 troops from Iraq this month, leaving about 3,200 troops in the country to continue advising Iraqi forces and targeting the remnants of the Islamic State group.
U.S. Central Command boss Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., speaking in Baghdad, said the move comes as Iraqi forces have made “great progress.” McKenzie did not clarify if the troops would return home or shift to other bases within the area of responsibility.
“This reduced footprint allows us to continue advising and assisting our Iraqi partners in rooting out the final remnants of ISIS in Iraq and ensuring its enduring defeat,” McKenzie said. “This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces’ increased ability to operate independently. The U.S. decision is a clear demonstration of our continued commitment to the ultimate goal, which is an Iraqi Security Force that is capable of preventing an ISIS resurgence and of securing Iraq’s sovereignty without external assistance.”
The move is the first reduction in forces inside Iraq within at least the past four years. The remaining 3,200 troops will be the lowest number of troops in the country since early 2015, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The decision comes as the U.S. is also withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, where the Pentagon expects to have fewer than 5,000 troops in November.
Within Iraq, the U.S. and coalition militaries have been handing over control of bases to Iraqi forces in recent weeks. Last month, for example, the U.S.-led coalition withdrew from Camp Taji—a major operating base north of Baghdad. The ceremony was the seventh time this year the coalition has transferred control of a base to Iraqi forces.