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US to reduce combat troops in Erbil, Anbar by month’s end: Iraqi military

American and Iraqi security forces agreed to reduce the number of US combat troops stationed at bases in Erbil and Anbar by the end of the month, according to an Iraqi military statement on Friday. The decision comes a week after a drone attack on Erbil International Airport.

In a meeting on Thursday, the Joint Operation Command and the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group (ISIS) “agreed to reduce the combat units and American capabilities of Ain al-Asad and Erbil military bases by the end of September,” read the statement from the Security Media Cell.

However, the coalition said the Iraqi statement relates to a planned regular rotation. The incoming troops “will conduct Base Operating Support functions and force protection operations at Iraqi Security Forces bases where U.S./Coalition forces are co-located,” the media office of the coalition told Rudaw English by email on Friday.

The US-led coalition was formally established in October 2014 after ISIS took control of large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria. US President Joe Biden received Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi late last month and announced that the US combat mission in Iraq will be over by the end of the year as its focus shifts to high-level advisory work. It has taken several steps to make the transition, leaving a number of Iraqi bases and handing command of the coalition over to a lower rank general.

“The fight against Daesh [ISIS] is not yet completed and the Iraqi Security Forces have now moved into the lead, and where once the Coalition were fighting beside them on the ground, now the Iraqis are doing the fighting themselves,” the coalition’s media office stated.

ISIS has been territorially defeated, but the group remains a serious security threat, especially in areas where there is a security vacuum between Kurdish and Iraqi forces. The Peshmerga and Iraqi forces have set up coordination centres to enhance cooperation in these areas and are in talks about establishing joint brigades.

US forces are under pressure to leave the country. Iran-backed Iraqi militias are blamed for frequent attacks on sites housing American troops.

Last Saturday, Erbil airport was attacked with two explosive-laden drones. There have been around 34 attacks on or near bases in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of 2021, according to data collected by Rudaw English.

There are currently about 2,500 US troops in Iraq, including in the Kurdistan Region. It is not immediately clear whether the shift in roles will change the number of American soldiers in the country.