More than 2,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq this month, the commander of U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.
“In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination 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,” said Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie.
“Partner capacity programs” that enable Iraqi forces and allow the U.S. to reduce its footprint in Iraq will continue to be expanded, he said.
The reduced footprint allows the U.S. to continue to assist its Iraqi partners in rooting out the final remnants of ISIS in the country and ensuring its “enduring defeat.”
“This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces’ increased ability to operate independently,” McKenzie said.
The “ultimate goal” was an Iraqi security force that is capable of preventing an ISIS resurgence and of securing Iraq’s sovereignty without external assistance, he added.
The announcement comes as President Donald Trump, who has pledged to end America’s “endless wars,” seeks re-election in November.
During an Oval Office meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi last month, Trump told reporters that “we look forward to the day when we don’t have to be there.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. consolidated its troops to fewer locations in Iraq by withdrawing from some bases.
The move came after a rocket attack on one base last December killed an American contractor setting off a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the United States and Iran-backed Iraqi militia groups.
The tension culminated in the U.S. assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January on Iraqi soil. Iran retaliated several days later by firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases housing U.S. forces.
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In the wake of Soleimani’s killing, the U.S. military moved thousands of additional soldiers and Marines into Iraq and the region to defend installations and diplomatic facilities. Since then the U.S. has reduced its numbers back down to around 5,200.
McKensie’s announcement about the drawdown in Iraq comes just over a month after Trump told Axios that the U.S. would withdraw 4,000 troops from Afghanistan ahead of the election. There are currently, around 8,600 troops in Afghanistan.
In February, the U.S. signed a landmark deal with the Taliban that could see all U.S.-led foreign forces withdraw from the country by May next year in exchange for security guarantees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.