US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE
US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE

London/Washington — The US announced a further reduction of troops in Iraq, as President Donald Trump underscores his long-standing pledge to exit “endless wars” in the Middle East.

“In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and co-ordination with the government of Iraq and our coalition partners, the US has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September,” Gen Frank McKenzie, the US commander in the Middle East, said on Wednesday.

Trump campaigned in 2016 promising to end combat entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan and is reaffirming the pledge before the November election as he trails Democrat Joe Biden in national polls.

Trump sent more US troops to the Middle East during his first three years in office, but has recently returned to 2016 pledges to draw down America’s military presence in the region.

In January, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel American forces amid the uproar after the US killed Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian general who oversaw his country’s foreign military operations at Baghdad’s airport.

The following month, Nato pledged to expand its training mission in Iraq as a quick initial response to Trump’s call for the alliance to play a bigger role in the Middle East. That was after attacks on two bases used by American armed forces as retaliation for the air strike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani.

The German government is planning to extend the deployment of armed forces in Iraq and Syria, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said in a tweet Wednesday. The country’s troops are “preventing the Islamic State from regaining its strength”, he said. The German parliament still has to approve the decision.

‘Reduced footprint’

McKenzie said in his comments during a speech in Iraq that the “reduced footprint allows us to continue advising and assisting our Iraqi partners in rooting out the final remnants” of IS in the country.

Trump’s relations with the military have become increasingly tense, with the president denying a report in the Atlantic magazine that he’d called soldiers who died in combat “losers”.

On Monday, Trump accused the US military leadership of waging wars to boost the profits of defence manufacturing companies. “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me — the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy,” Trump said at a White House news conference.

The comment was criticised on Wednesday by the top Republican on the House armed services committee.

“To have a commander-in-chief question the motivations of military leaders, and basically say they are in it for themselves, is wrong and gives our adversaries an opening,” Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, who’s retiring from Congress, said during a conference hosted by Defense News. “Even if you think it, you shouldn’t say it.”

A recent poll by Military Times and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families showed a plurality backed Biden over Trump, a reversal from 2016, when Trump had a significant edge over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the same poll.

Bloomberg

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