The US-led coalition said on Monday it is “adjusting” its force levels in Iraq downward as it shifts away from combat operations against ISIS.
In a statement, it gave no specifics but made clear that the focus now will be on consolidating military gains made against ISIS after more than three years of fighting in Iraq and Syria.
“2018 will be a critical year in adjusting coalition forces as it consolidates gains against ISIS and brings hope for a better future to the Iraqi people,” it said.
An Associated Press reporter at the Al-Asad base in western Iraq saw troop movements reflecting the account by contractors. The contractors spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations and declined to reveal the exact size of the drawdown.
“The battle against Daesh has ended, and so the level of the American presence will be reduced,” said government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi, who used the Arabic language acronym for ISIS.
Al-Hadithi stressed that the drawdown - the first since the war against ISIS began more than three years ago - was still in its early stages and doesn’t mark the beginning of a complete pullout of US forces.
“Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq,” Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman, told the AP.
One senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 60 percent of all US troops still in Iraq will be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with Washington. The plan would leave about 4,000 US troops to continue training the Iraqi military. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
As of late September, there were 8,892 US troops in Iraq, according to a Pentagon report released in November.
There were about 170,000 US troops in Iraq in 2007 at the height of the surge of US forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the US-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein. US troop numbers eventually fell to 40,000 before the complete withdrawal in 2011.