The U.S.-led counterterrorism coalition denied that its decision to withdraw from an Iraqi base was “related to recent attacks against Iraqi bases hosting Coalition troops, or the ongoing COVID-19 situation in Iraq” in a Monday statement.
Operation Inherent Resolve has handed over three of its bases to the Iraqi government over the past two weeks. The task force’s withdrawal comes as Iraq faces a novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and tensions between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed local militias continue to rise. But the U.S.-led coalition says that the moves are part of an unrelated transfer of responsibility to Iraqi authorities.
“As a result of the success of [Iraqi Security Forces] in their fight against ISIS, the Coalition is repositioning troops from a few smaller bases,” a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve stated on March 20. “These bases remain under Iraqi control and we will continue our advising partnership for the permanent defeat of [ISIS] from other Iraqi military bases, providing much-needed specialist support.”
The task force began handing over K1 Airbase outside of Kirkuk to Iraqi forces on Sunday. Operation Inherent Resolve had similarly evacuated Qayyarah Airfield West near Mosul last Thursday, and Al Qaim Base along the Iraqi-Syrian border earlier in the month.
K1 Airbase had also been the scene of a bloody attack that killed an American translator in December, provoking a spiral of escalation that had ended in a near-war between the United States and Iran.