March 26, 2020 / 12:26 PM / 5 days ago

U.S.-led forces depart Iraqi military base near Mosul in drawdown

An Iraqi soldier wears a protective face mask and gloves, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as he stands guard during the hand over of Qayyarah Airfield West from US-led coalition forces to Iraqi Security Forces, in the south of Mosul, Iraq March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

QAYYARA WEST AIRFIELD, Iraq (Reuters) - Troops with the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State began departing an air base in northern Iraq on Thursday, handing it over fully to the Iraqi military as part of a reduction of foreign forces in the country.

The overall drawdown will see coalition forces move into a smaller number of bases and reduce personnel. The coalition has not provided details or numbers.

Qayyara air base, south of the city of Mosul where Islamic State declared its caliphate in 2014, is the second base to be handed over to the Iraqis this month. Coalition troops left a base at al-Qaim on the Syrian border last week.

“The coalition will operate from fewer locations, but remains committed to supporting our partners in their fight against Daesh (Islamic States),” Brigadier General Vincent Barker of the coalition said in a statement.

Coalition officials say the troop cuts and relocation of units into fewer Iraqi bases is because Iraqi forces are mostly capable of containing the threat from leftover Islamic State militants on their own.

The U.S.-led coalition has supported the Iraqi military since 2014 in the fight to neutralise Islamic State. A few thousand militants are believed to be remain active, mostly confined to remote areas such as desert and mountains across northern Iraq. They periodically attack security forces but have held no major territory like towns and cities since 2017.

The coalition currently deploys around 7,500 troops in Iraq, including 5,000 Americans.

Reporting by Thaier al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by John Davison and Mark Heinrich

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