WASHINGTON – The United States and Iraq said Wednesday they had agreed on the eventual withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq and the two governments would hold talks to determine when to move.
In a joint statement following a roundtable discussion between US and Iraqi officials, the two governments said the US armed forces mission is now focused on training Iraqi troops to fight ISIS. As a result, combat troops would no longer be necessary in the future, the statement said.
According to the Pentagon, there are currently around 2,500 US troops in Iraq helping Iraq fight IS. However, it is not clear how many armed forces could be considered combat troops.
“Due to the increasing capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), the parties confirmed that the US and Coalition Forces mission has now shifted to a mission focused on training and advisory tasks, which will enable the redistribution of all remaining forces from Iraq at the point in time that is to be determined in the coming technical discussions, ”the joint statement said.
“The transition of US and other international forces from combat operations to training, equipment and support for ISF reflects the success of their strategic partnership and secures support for ISF’s continued efforts to ensure that ISIS can never again threaten the stability of Iraq “said the statement.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that no details had been worked out on the possible timing of the combat troops’ withdrawal or even the timing of scheduled talks on the matter.
“There was no specific agreement on a specific date or number of troops by a specific date,” Kirby said.
The United States never intended to keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, he said.
“I think we all realized when we were invited by the Iraqi government that this mission was directed against ISIS and that there was no expectation that it would be a permanent, permanent mission or a permanent footprint,” Kirby said .
President Barack Obama withdrew US troops from Iraq in 2011 and sent forces back into the country in 2014 after ISIS fighters conquered large areas of Iraq.
The Pentagon says the ISIS threat has been greatly reduced and that the group has been dramatically weakened from what it was, but that the militants still pose a threat to Iraq and the region.
Mosheh wins contributed.