The U.S.-led coalition combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria announced Sunday that U.S. troops were pausing the training of Iraqi troops as threats to coalition troops housed at Iraqi bases persist.
Following Saturday’s rocket attack on the Balad Air Base and an indirect fire attack in Baghdad, officials with Operation Inherent Resolve say there have now been 13 attacks against bases housing American forces.
“As a result we are now fully committed to protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops. This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations against Daesh and we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review,” OIR said in a news release.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that the NATO Iraq training mission had also been suspended in light of the dire security situation following the U.S. strike that killed revered Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force.
The Canadian-led NATO mission told the Associated Press that the security of its forces was “paramount.”
“We continue to take all precautions necessary,” NATO spokesman Dylan White told AP. "NATO’s mission is continuing, but training activities are temporarily suspended,”
“Our first priority is protecting all Coalition personnel committed to the defeat of Daesh. Repeated rocket attacks over the last two months by elements of Kata’ib Hezbollah have caused the death of Iraqi Security Forces personnel and a U.S. civilian," OIR said in a statement.
U.S. officials believe Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group, is responsible for a number of rocket attacks against coalition bases, to include the deadly rocket attack on the Kirkuk base that killed an American contractor and wounded four Americans.
Nearly 30 107 mm rockets slammed the Kirkuk base on Dec. 27, precipitating events that led to a U.S. strike against Kata’ib Hezbollah on Dec. 29, and attempts by the Iran-backed militia to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
“We know that the intent of this last attack was, in fact, to kill American soldiers sailors, airmen and marines…. 31 rockets aren’t designed as a warning shot. That’s designed to inflict damage and kill," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley explained to reporters describing the Kirkuk attack.
While U.S. officials just announced Sunday that the U.S. military was suspending an Iraqi military training program, a source on the Kirkuk base told military times that American commandos at Kirkuk halted its Iraqi training program following the Dec. 27 rocket attack.
The source said the base is bracing for another potential attack by the Iran-backed militia and that the base has been busy with cleaning up debris following the attack.
“We remain resolute as partners of the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi people that have welcomed us into their country to help defeat ISIS. We remain ready to return our full attention and efforts back to our shared goal of ensuring the lasting defeat of Daesh,” OIR said Sunday.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.