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US to reduce troop presence in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000

US troops at the Qayyarah air base in Iraq in 2017.
US troops at the Qayyarah air base in Iraq in 2017. © Ahmad Al-Rubaye, AFP
3 min

The Pentagon will slash the level of US troops in Iraq to 3,000 this month, a senior general said Wednesday, as President Donald Trump seeks to honour a pledge to withdraw from foreign conflicts.

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"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 General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the US military's Central Command.

The US troops were deployed in Iraq in 2014 to fight the Islamic State (IS) group after the Iraqi army fled the battlefields around Mosul and the northern Iraqi city fell to jihadist control. Officials in the US-led coalition say Iraqi forces are now mostly able to handle the remnants of IS group on their own.

McKenzie said the US was committed to its "ultimate goal" of an Iraq where local forces alone can prevent the IS group from returning and secure "Iraq's sovereignty without external assistance".

"The journey has been difficult, the sacrifice has been great, but the progress has been significant," the general said.

Trump's 2016 campaign promise

A senior administration official had said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump would be announcing a reduction of US troops from Iraq.

The US and Iraq in June affirmed their commitment to the reduction of US troops in the country in the coming months, with no plans by Washington to maintain permanent bases or a permanent military presence.

In 2016, Trump campaigned on ending America's “endless wars”, but US troops remain in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, albeit in smaller numbers.

Last month during a meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Trump redoubled his promise to withdraw the US troops still in Iraq.

US blames Iran-backed groups for attacks

Trump's meeting with the Iraqi leader came amid a new spike in tensions between the US and Iran after Washington said it would seek to reinstate all previously suspended US sanctions on Iran at the UN. 

Over the past year, dozens of rocket attacks have targeted US troops in Iraq, the US embassy in Baghdad and logistics convoys heading to bases, killing at least six military personnel – three Americans, one Briton and two Iraqis.

US officials have blamed the violence on hardline factions close to Tehran, which as Washington's longtime foe has repeatedly demanded US troops leave the Middle East. 

Iraq's parliament voted earlier this year for the departure of foreign troops from Iraq, and US and other coalition troops have been leaving as part of a drawdown.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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