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U.S., Iraq agree on eventual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops

The U.S. military mission is focused on training Iraqis for the fight against ISIS, allowing for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, the two countries say.
U.S. Army soldiers conduct a mortar exercise at a small coalition outpost in western Iraq near the border with Syria on Jan. 24, 2018.
U.S. Army soldiers conduct a mortar exercise at a small coalition outpost in western Iraq near the border with Syria on Jan. 24, 2018.Susannah George / AP file

WASHINGTON — The United States and Iraq said Wednesday that 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.

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 the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS. As a result, combat troops would no longer be necessary in the future, the statement said.

About 2,500 U.S. service members are in Iraq to help it counter ISIS, according to the Defense Department. It's not clear how many of them could be considered combat troops.

"Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF, 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," the joint statement said. "ISF" is short for Iraqi Security Forces.

"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," the statement said.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that no details had been worked out about the timing of a combat troop exit or even about 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 U.S. 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 them back to the country in 2014 after ISIS militants seized large swaths of territory in Iraq.

The Pentagon says that the threat posed by ISIS has been greatly diminished and that the group has been dramatically weakened but that the militants still pose a danger to Iraq and the region.