US withdrawing nearly half of its troops from Iraq

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States military on Wednesday announced that it would be reducing its presence in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 troops this month, formalizing a move that had been long expected.

"This reduced footprint allows us to continue advising and assisting our Iraqi partners in rooting out the final remnants of ISIS in Iraq and ensuring its enduring defeat," Marine General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said during a visit to Iraq. "This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces’ increased ability to operate independently." 

Last month, Reuters reported that the United States was expected to reduce its troops presence in Iraq by about a third.

The United States has around 5,200 troops that were deployed in Iraq to fight the Islamic State militant group. Officials in the U.S.-led coalition say Iraqi forces are now mostly able to handle the remnants of Islamic State on their own.

"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," McKenzie said. "The journey has been difficult, the sacrifice has been great, but the progress has been significant. Your mission is important and there is still much work to be done- so let’s get back to it.”

A senior administration official had said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump would be announcing a reduction of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The United States and Iraq in June affirmed their commitment to the reduction of U.S. troops in the country in coming months, with no plans by Washington to maintain permanent bases or a permanent military presence.

In 2016 Trump campaigned on ending America's “endless wars,” but U.S. troops remain in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, albeit in smaller numbers.

Last month during a meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Trump redoubled his promise to withdraw the U.S. troops still in Iraq.

Trump's meeting with the Iraqi leader came amid a new spike in tensions between Washington and Tehran after Washington said it would seek to reinstate all previously suspended U.S. sanctions on Iran at the United Nations.

Iraq's parliament had voted earlier this year for the departure of foreign troops from Iraq, and United States and other coalition troops have been leaving as part of a drawdown.

 (Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Task & Purpose reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this story.

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