US begins reducing troops in Iraq after victory over IS
AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq
The U.S. has started to reduce the number of its troops in Iraq after Baghdad’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group last year, an Iraqi government spokesman and Western contractors said Monday.
The move marks a shift in priorities for the U.S. after the collapse of the extremists’ so-called caliphate late last year. It also comes about three months ahead of Iraqi national elections in which paramilitary groups with close ties to Iran are set to play a decisive role.
Dozens of U.S. soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights in the past week, along with weapons and equipment, the contractors 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 IS.
Al-Hadithi stressed that the drawdown – the first since the war against IS began more than three years ago – was still in its early stages and doesn’t mark the beginning of a complete pullout of U.S. forces.