Following the Iraqi government’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State, the U.S. has begun to withdraw troops from Iraq, officials told the Associated Press Monday.
U.S. Army spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon spoke to reporters at Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq.
“It is our intent to publish a release whenever we have forces moving out of the theater,” Dillon said. “Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq.”
U.S. Army 1st Lt. William John Raymond added that U.S. troops have “had a recent change of mission” and will be relocating “in the coming month,” though he did not indicate where specifically the troops are going.
The AP report quotes an anonymous Iraqi official who estimated that the reduction will include 60 percent of U.S. troops still in the country, leaving roughly 4,000 U.S. troops to remain.
The U.S. intervention in Iraq began in 2003. At the height of the Iraqi-U.S. War in 2007, there were about 170,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, but dwindled to 40,000 until the complete withdrawal in 2011, which led to sectarian violence and widespread disruption in the region.
As a result, the U.S. intervened again in 2014, specifically targeting the Islamic State.
The drawdown announced Monday is the first since the 2014.
Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said that the move does not indicate a comprehensive drawdown of U.S. soldiers from Iraq.
“The battle against Daesh has ended, and so the level of the American presence will be reduced,” al-Hadithi said. “This is a message to those who doubt the government’s decisions regarding the presence of American (forces in Iraq): There are rules and the promise of a withdrawal.”
At a January press briefing at the Pentagon, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James Glynn told reporters that the Islamic State maintains a “cellular structure” of armed fighters, whose aim is to disrupt security within Iraq.
Glynn pledged continued support for Iraq’s security forces but acknowledged that coalition “capabilities” in Iraq would likely shift now that conventional combat operations against the group have largely ended.
The AP article reported that many of the troops have already been be re-located to Afghanistan, but was not able to say how many, because of safety measures.
In August, President Donald Trump introduced a new strategy for dealing with the conflict in Afghanistan, which includes sending an additional 4,000 troops. He warned that a “hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.”