U.S. starts Iraq drawdown after declaration of victory over IS
By SUSANNAH GEORGE and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq — American troops have started to draw down from Iraq following Baghdad’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group last year, according to Western contractors at a U.S.-led coalition base in Iraq.
In Baghdad, an Iraqi government spokesman on Monday confirmed to The Associated Press that the drawdown has begun, though he stressed it was still in its early stages and doesn’t mark the beginning of a complete pullout of U.S. forces.
Dozens of American soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights over the past week, along with weapons and equipment, the contractors said.
An AP reporter at the Al-Asad base in western Iraq saw troop movements reflecting the contractors’ account. The contractors spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations and declined to reveal the exact size of the drawdown.
“Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq,” coalition spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP when asked for comment.
Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said “the battle against Daesh has ended, and so the level of the American presence will be reduced.” Daesh is the Arabic language acronym for IS.
Al-Hadithi spoke just hours after AP reported the American drawdown — the first since the war against IS was launched over three years ago.
One senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 60 percent of all American troops currently in country will be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with the United States. The plan would leave a force of about 4,000 U.S. troops to continue training the Iraqi military.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
A Pentagon report released in November said there were 8,892 […]