The United States has begun to diminish its military presence in Iraq in response to Baghdad’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State, a move that marks a shifting of priorities as America redeploys the forces and equipment to Afghanistan.
Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, told the Associated Press (AP), “The battle against Daesh [ISIS] has ended, and so the level of the American presence will be reduced.”
He emphasized 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,” notes AP.
“Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq,” added Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S-led coalition against the Islamic State.
The Associated Press (AP) reports:
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 [Western] 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.
An anonymous senior official close to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told AP that the U.S. troop withdrawal is expected to reach 60 percent of all American forces, leaving behind about 4,000 troops to continue training their Iraqi counterparts.
Despite the reduced number of U.S. troops, ISIS remains a threat, according to American and Iraqi officials.
NBC News learned from Hisham al-Hashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government, that “while the number of active fighters on the battlefield is probably in the range of 1,000 to 1,500, the actual number of ISIS-loyalists in Iraq and Syria is closer to 10,000.”
U.S.-backed local troops have dealt ISIS’s so-called caliphate a crumbling blow in Iraq and Syria, but the group remains a prominent threat in Afghanistan where American forces are facing various other jihadist organizations, including the Taliban.
By late January, ISIS and Taliban jihadists had killed an estimated 200 people on Afghan soil over a month period.
The more than 16-year-old Afghan war appears to be in full swing with jihadist organizations such as ISIS and the Taliban expanding their reach despite a record number of U.S. airstrikes in recent months and an increased number of forces.
According to the United Nations, ISIS expanded its presence to seven Afghan provinces and intensified its terror activities last year.
Meanwhile, the Taliban also continues to gain territory.
The United States military has designated the Afghanistan-Pakistan region as the world’s epicenter of terrorist activity.