US TROOPS have begun withdrawing from Iraq after declaring victory over Isis and redeploying to Afghanistan.
There was no formal Pentagon announcement of the “drawdown” of forces, but anonymous contractors at a US base said it began last week.
Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told the US Associated Press (AP) agency: “The battle against [Isis] has ended and so the level of the American presence will be reduced.”
Mr Hadithi stressed the reduction was in its early stages and at present did not mark the beginning of a complete withdrawal of US forces from his country.
But dozens of US 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.
“We’ve had a recent change of mission and soon we’ll be supporting a different theatre of operations in the coming month,” US Army First Lieutenant William John Raymond told AP at al-Asad.
He spoke as he and a handful of soldiers from his unit conducted equipment inventory checks required before leaving Iraq.
Lt Raymond declined to specify where his unit was being sent, as that information had yet to be made public.
A senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 60 per cent of all US troops now in the country would be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with Washington.
The plan would leave a force of about 4,000 US troops to continue training the Iraqi armed forces.
“Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in co-ordination with the government of Iraq,” Inherent Resolve coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon told the AP when asked for comment.
But the coalition has said it will continue operations with its Kurdish separatist Syrian Democratic Forces allies against Isis in neighbouring Syria for the foreseeable future — against the will of the Damascus government.
US President Donald Trump acceded to demands last year by his Defence Secretary James Mattis and commanders in Afghanistan to send thousands more troops in an attempt to halt major Taliban advances in the 16-year war.
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