Pentagon reduces Iraq troop levels, will expand military presence in Afghanistan

The Iraqi government announced Monday U.S. troop levels in Iraq will be gradually reduced following Baghdad’s victory over the Islamic State (ISIS).

This is the first reduction in boots on the ground in Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition to crush ISIS was formed three years ago.

Under an agreement concluded with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, U.S. and coalition troops will partially withdraw, with some forces redeployed to Afghanistan.

“The battle against Daesh [ISIS] has ended, and so the level of the American presence will be reduced,” a spokesman for the Information Office of Prime Minister al-Abadi told reporters.

Iraqi spokesman Saad al-Hadithi emphasized the reduction in the U.S. troops in the country did not signal a complete withdrawal American forces.

The U.S. currently maintains slightly under 9,000 troops in Iraq, of which 60 percent are expected to be removed, according to one senior Iraqi official.  The U.S. is expected to maintain a force of approximately 4,000 in Iraq for training purposes.

According to anonymous Western military contractors, some troops designated for withdrawal from Iraq will be assigned to assist in military operations in Afghanistan.

One contractor working in Iraq told the Associated Press U.S. troops and military equipment had been mobilized and sent to Afghanistan, but the source refused to reveal the number of troops which departed Iraq or the destination.

U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan hover around 14,000.

Since assuming office in January 2017, President Trump has nearly doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan and eliminated restrictions on their ability to participate in combat missions against Taliban militants.

Commenting on the flurry of activity, U.S. Army 1st Lt. William John Raymond said:

“We’ve had a recent change of mission, and soon we’ll be supporting a different theater of operations in the coming month.”

Raymond refused further comment and declined to reveal the place of arrival for the departing troops.

The revelation an agreement brokered between the U.S. and Iraq over troop levels arrives at the same time the Iraqi government issued a list of most-wanted terrorists. According to Iraqi Alsumaria News, 14 are sought by Iraqi authorities, including the world’s most wanted man, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The list also includes ISIS second in command, Abdulrahamn Al-Qaduli; Nashwan Abd Al-Razzaq Abd Al-Baqi, a top lieutenant to al-Qaeda leader Ayman Rabie al-Zawahiri; and Muthana Harith Al-Dhari, the secretary-general of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq.

 

[AP] [Fox News] [Photo courtesy U.S. Army via Foreign Policy]