On March 29, 2020, the US-led coalition forces in Iraq withdrew from the K1 airbase located in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk (15 kilometers northwest of Kirkuk), being the third-place coalition forces have left this month, as a part of the Redeployment Plan.
Coalition forces handed over the base to Iraq’s military. At least $1.1m of equipment was transferred to the Iraqis as 300 coalition personnel departed.
US plans to consolidate its troops in two locations in Iraq.
The US-led alliance further alleged that the transfer of the US forces to has nothing to do with the recent missile attacks against US-occupied bases in Iraq, or the outbreak of the coronavirus in Iraq.
“Today is a day of pride for our partners in the Iraqi security forces and the international military alliance against Daesh. The Kirkuk Air Force Base has served as a crucial location for the coalition, Iraqi security forces, as well as Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) in the battle against Daesh, pursuit, and destruction of safe havens of the terrorists in the rugged Hamrin Mountains,” Brigadier General Vincent BARKER of the coalition, said.
K1 has hosted coalition forces since 2017 to launch operations against the Daesh armed group in nearby mountainous areas. Areas south of Kirkuk, and north of neighboring provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh remain hotbeds of Daesh activities.
The stretch of the territory is also disputed between the federal Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which has created security gaps benefitting Daesh fighters. The coalition’s presence had at times been a mediating force between the two competing authorities.
Coalition officials said they would still assist Iraqi forces with air support and surveillance, but significantly cut back on training and ground operations, as the limited withdrawal continues.
The US troop withdrawal from the K1 came two days after the Iraqi resistance group Kata’ib Hezbollah held a military drill, dubbed ‘Hunting the Crow’, to prepare itself for fighting against US troops. On the other hand, the move has been planned for months and is not the result of a wave of attacks by Iran-backed militia groups.
The US-led forces have already withdrawn about 500 soldiers this month from the Q-West [Qayyarah Air Force Base] in Nineveh province (around 60 km south of Mosul) followed by the Qaim base near the border with Syria. All were in line with plans to pull out from bases across Iraq and consolidate coalition forces in Baghdad and at the Ain al-Assad airbase in the country’s western desert.
Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Adnan Al-ZURFI has reassured the UN Security Council’s permanent member states (P-5) that his country would adopt a balanced foreign policy.
Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill on January 5, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the assassination of top Iranian General Qassem SOLEIMANI, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, along with his Iraqi trench mate, Abu Mahdi al-MUHANDIS, the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi, and their companions in a US airstrike authorized by President Donald TRUMP near Baghdad International Airport two days earlier.
On March 25, 2020, the French troops as a part of Coalition Forces left the Iraqi territory, based on the agreements conducted with the Iraqi government.
The U.S.-led coalition mission in Iraq began in 2014 after Daesh militants swept across a third of the country and seized swaths of neighboring Syria as well. Six years on, the extremist group has been reduced to hiding out across rugged terrain on the periphery of state control in Iraq and Syria.
Two members of a Marines Special Operations Team were killed earlier this month during an operation targeting what officials described as a Daesh mountain hideout.
At the end of February 2020, there were some 7,500 coalition troops based in Iraq, including 5,000 US forces.
This story contains reporting from Al-Jazeera, Stars & Stripes, ABNA, Asharq Al-Awsat, Iran-Daily, and Press TV.
Photo’s source: vnexplorer.net.