President Donald Trump will withdraw 2,200 American troops from Iraq in September, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander of Central Command, said on Wednesday.
During a change of command ceremony in Iraq, McKenzie announced that the U.S. troop numbers would go from 5,200 to 3,000.
“In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination with the Government of Iraq and our coalition partners, the United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September,” he said.
McKenzie said the reduced footprint would allow the U.S. to continue advising and assisting Iraqi forces in rooting out the final remnants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and ensuring its final defeat.
“This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces’ increased ability to operate independently,” McKenzie said. “The U.S. decision is a clear demonstration of our continued commitment to the ultimate goal, which is an Iraqi Security Force that is capable of preventing an ISIS resurgence and of securing Iraq’s sovereignty without external assistance.”
He added: “The journey has been difficult, the sacrifice has been great, but the progress has been significant.”
The withdrawal of more than 2,000 troops comes as Trump looks to fulfill his promises to wind down the wars in the Middle East. A senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday that there would soon be an announcement on troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, too.
Trump previewed the withdrawals last month.
“At some point we’ll be gone, brought down to low level,” he said on August 20. “We’re taking troops out fairly rapidly and we look forward to the day we don’t have to be there, waiting for the day Iraq can defend themselves.”
The Iraq War began in 2003 after then-President George W. Bush decided to invade the country, citing a threat from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction.
The war reached a height of more than 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in 2007. More than 3,500 U.S. troops have been killed in combat in Iraq, and over 32,000 wounded in action.
After the Iraq War ground into an insurgency against American troops in the mid-2000s, the Bush administration ordered a surge of forces to the country and implemented a counterinsurgency approach that eventually helped to quell the violence with aid from the Sunni population.
The Obama administration withdrew all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, which led to a vacuum of support for Iraqi forces and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
McKenzie said the U.S. would continue to fight ISIS with partners in Iraq and Syria, but said training would continue to allow the U.S. to further reduce its footprint.
“Moving forward, we must continue our D-ISIS work together with our partners in Iraq and Syria. We are continuing to expand on our partner capacity programs that enable Iraqi forces and allow us to reduce our footprint in Iraq,” he said.