Flashpoints

Training in Iraq halted, smaller bases consolidating some coalition troops homeward bound over COVID-19 concerns

The U.S. military says some coalition troops will draw down in Iraq and return home as Iraqi forces have halted all training over fears of spreading COVID-19.

The coalition says it’s also consolidating forces across some smaller bases across Iraq to help protect troops and fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials with Operation Inherent Resolve — the U.S.-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria — provided no details on the number of troops leaving the country or what troop contributing countries are reducing their footprint.

“We are in the early stages of this temporary repositioning of training-focused personnel outside of Iraq,” Myles B. Caggins III, the OIR spokesman, told Military Times.

“As we refine our plans, we will provide updates on anticipated troop numbers and nationalities that will depart Iraq due to the pause in training to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Caggins said.

The U.K. announced Thursday it was pulling some of its forces from Iraq following a suspension of training across the country over the last 60-days. The U.K. detailed in a news release that it will keep “key military” service members in Iraq to carry on the anti-ISIS campaign.

“In recent months the tempo of training has significantly declined, which means that I am in a position to bring back the current training unit to the UK,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, said in a news release.

“There remains a significant footprint of UK Armed Forces within the coalition and elsewhere. We are committed to building Iraq’s security capacity through our membership of the Global Coalition that has proved so effective and will continue to support the Iraqi Government in achieving stability,” Wallace said.

OIR also detailed that it was consolidating forces on some smaller bases as a result of successes against ISIS but also to protect the forces as COVID-19 continues to spread.

The U.S. military announced Tuesday it had handed over a strategic outpost near the Iraq-Syria border to Iraqi forces in a region known to host an Iran-backed militia responsible for more than a dozen rocket attacks targeting coalition troops.

Two experts who spoke to Military Times worry the base nestled near a key border crossing area could fall into the hands of the Iran-backed group — cementing what national security experts have warned is Tehran’s goal of a land route to the Mediterranean Sea for the movement of arms, proxies and illicit goods.

“Al Qaim base served as a critical location in the fight against Daesh. First, as the Iraqi Security Forces liberated the Al Qaim region from an evil presence, and later as a valuable base during the Battle for Baghouz, the last physical territory held by ISIS. Today’s transfer is possible thanks to the efforts and successes of our ISF [Iraq security forces] partners," Barker said in the release.

The coalition plans to leave other smaller outposts throughout 2020. OIR said in a release that it will retain “key military personnel” on Iraqi bases to ensure the coalition’s “interests are appropriately supported.”

“The Coalition remains committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS through our partnership with the ISF, and as the situation permits, we will resume our support to Iraqi training,” OIR said in a news release.

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