WASHINGTON — The United States and Iraq said Wednesday they have agreed on the eventual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq and that the two governments would hold talks to work out the timing of the move.
In a joint statement following a round of talks between U.S. and Iraqi officials, the two governments said the mission of U.S. forces was now focused on training Iraqi troops to fight ISIS. As a result, combat troops would no longer be necessary in the future, the statement said.
There are currently roughly 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq helping Iraq counter ISIS, according to the Pentagon, but it’s not clear how many forces could be considered combat troops.
“Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces), the parties confirmed that the mission of U.S. and Coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks,” said the joint statement.
“The transition of U.S. and other international forces away from combat operations to training, equipping, and assisting the ISF reflects the success of their strategic partnership and ensures support to the ISF’s continued efforts to ensure ISIS can never again threaten Iraq’s stability,” said the statement.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters no details had been worked out as to the possible timing of a combat troop exit, or even the timing of planned talks on the issue.
“There was no specific agreement of a date certain or a certain number of troops by a certain date,” Kirby said.
The United States has never intended to keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, he said.
“I think we all realized when we were invited in by the government of Iraq, that this mission was aligned against ISIS, and that there was no expectation that it was going to be a permanent, enduring mission or footprint,” Kirby said.
President Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, and then sent forces back to the country in 2014 after ISIS militants seized large swathes of territory in Iraq.
The Pentagon says the threat posed by ISIS has been greatly diminished and that the group has been dramatically weakened from what it was, but that the militants still pose a danger to Iraq and the region.
Mosheh Gains contributed.