The number of US forces in Iraq will fall after the government in Baghdad declared victory over ISIS, an Iraqi government spokesman told CNN.
On Monday, the US-led coalition fighting ISIS announced a “shift in focus” in its military campaign in Iraq. This meant US troops would be “gradually reduced,” Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told CNN.
Last December, Iraq’s military declared that it had “fully liberated” all of Iraq of “ISIS terrorist gangs” and retaken full control of the Iraqi-Syrian border.
“Enabled by accelerated successes following the liberation of Mosul, the Coalition will shift its focus in Iraq from enabling combat operations to sustaining military gains against Daesh (ISIS),” read the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve’s statement.
The Pentagon said in December there were around 5,200 American forces in Iraq. Their ongoing presence is politically sensitive for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is facing national elections in March.
The coalition statement did not say where the forces would go, but the Trump administration announced last year that troop levels in Afghanistan would rise.
ISIS rapidly captured a large swath of territories in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic caliphate in 2014. At one pont, it held more than 34,000 square miles territory from the Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad.
The campaign to eliminate ISIS’s territorial foothold took nearly 25,000 coalition airstrikes in more than three years.
In 2003, an American-led invasion toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and troops engaged in extended fighting across the country, battling an insurgency and later sectarian violence. At their peak, US troop levels in Iraq stood near 166,000.
The US combat mission in Iraq ended in 2010 but some American troops remained in the country to train and assist Iraqi forces.
“Our enduring presence as invited guests in Iraq will shift to focus more on policing, border control and military building capacity building. We will sustain the successful momentum and enhance the capacities of the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Daesh (ISIS), now and in the future,” said coalition spokesman Army Colonel Ryan Dillon said n a tweet.
Iraq’s government said that Iraqi authorities would coordinate US troop presence with the coalition. “Iraqi government will determine the level of the American presence and its nature for the next phase,” al-Hadithi, the Iraqi government spokesman, told CNN.