The US-led military coalition is leaving some of its smaller bases in Iraq following multiple rocket attacks on coalition bases in the country.
Two Americans and one British service member were killed and around a dozen others injured in an attack on al-Taji base last week.
“As a result of the success of Iraqi Security Forces in their fight against ISIS, the Coalition is re-positioning troops from a few smaller bases. These bases remain under Iraqi control and we will continue our advising partnership for the permanent defeat of Daesh from other Iraqi military bases,” a coalition spokesman said in a statement.
Coalition officials stressed that the move to relocate was planned several months ago and was unrelated to the spate of recent rocket attacks.
But the move follows a number of rocket attacks on Iraqi bases in recent months where coalition forces were present, killing and wounding several US service members.
NBC News was first to report the decision.
On Thursday, the US carried out retaliatory airstrikes against multiple Iranian-backed militia sites in Iraq.
Following a previous round of strikes against the same militia that were carried out in response to a December rocket attack that killed an American contractor and the targeted killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the Iraqi parliament voted for a non binding resolution to eject US forces from Iraq.
Despite that vote the US and its coalition allies have shown no signs of leaving up until now.
“The Coalition remains in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq to defeat ISIS; since 2014, together, we have liberated more than 55,000 square kilometers and freed millions of Iraqi people from ISIS murderous rule. Our troops are re-positioning in coordination with the Government of Iraq. Due to operational security, we will not announce a specific timetable for the troop movements,” the Coalition statement said, while also declining to say which bases would be vacated.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi Sunday “to discuss the recent attacks on Iraq’s Camp Taji military base,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement Monday.
“Pompeo reiterated that the Government of Iraq must defend Coalition personnel supporting the Iraqi government’s efforts to defeat ISIS,” she said, adding that “Pompeo noted that America will not tolerate attacks and threats to American lives and will take additional action as necessary in self-defense.”
US military officials have said that defending against such rocket attacks can be challenging.
“So the fact of the matter is we have more locations in the theater where we have soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines than we have the ability to protect,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday.
“So we have to ruthlessly prioritize, and we can’t have C-RAM everywhere we want it – everywhere we want it to be,” McKenzie said, referring to the Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar system that can be used to shoot down incoming rockets such as those that were fired at Camp Taji.
“That’s just a fact. It’s an unpleasant fact, but it’s one we deal with all the time,” he added.
And despite some success against the remnants of ISIS, the terror group maintains a presence in Iraq, and US and Iraqi forces recently battled ISIS fighters in a cave complex, an intense battle that led to the death of two US Marines.