President Donald Trump is planning to reduce its troop presence in Iraq by about a third, from 5,200 to about 3,500, according to unnamed U.S. officials who spoke with the Wall Street Journal.
Those officials who spoke with the Journal said President Trump is expected to order the reduction of about 1,700 troops deployed in Iraq and they said the reduction will take place in the next two to three months.
Both Pentagon and Iraqi officials have declined requests by the Journal to provide an official comment on the reported troop reduction.
The does, however, come after the U.S. and Iraq issued a joint statement last week stating the U.S. mission in Iraq should shift from fighting ISIS to “training, equipping, and supporting the Iraqi Security Forces.”
In a seminar earlier this month, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) did say, “There’s going to be a requirement for us, our NATO and our coalition partners to have a long-term presence in Iraq,” but added, “We don’t want to maintain a huge number of soldiers forever in Iraq. We want to get smaller.”
The U.S. left Iraq in 2011 but returned to Iraq in 2014, following the rise of ISIS and its capture of the Iraqi city of Mosul in June of that year. The U.S. troops that have since assisted in counter-ISIS operations in Iraq. U.S. troops in Iraq also support U.S. efforts in Syria, where about 900 U.S. troops are also deployed. The reported reduction would place the U.S. troop presence back to about where it was in 2015, near the start of U.S. operations against the Islamic State terror group, ISIS.
The U.S. presence in Iraq has also been complicated by the actions of Iraq’s pro-Iranian militias, who have launched sporadic rocket attacks at U.S. positions. In December of 2019, the U.S. launched airstrikes against a pro-Iranian militia group, the Kata’ib Hizbollah, suspected of firing rockets that killed a U.S. defense contractor in Iraq. Following those strikes, members of that militia and other pro-Iranian movements attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, attempting to smash down gates and set fires. In the days that followed the embassy riots, the U.S. launched a strike killing Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was present in Baghdad with Iraqi militia leaders.
Following the strike on Soleimani, Iraq’s parliament did pass a resolution calling for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Despite this resolution, passed in January, the U.S. has maintained much of its troop presence.