The U.S.-led international coalition formally withdrew from Iraq’s Taji military base on Sunday. The coalition handed the base over to Iraqi security forces, coalition and local news reported.
The base, 17 miles north of Baghdad, had been the site of frequent rocket attacks, in recent months, by Iran-backed militias targeting U.S.-led troops. Despite the long-term plan to withdraw coalition troops from Camp Taji, the move will be seen by Iran’s proxies as a victory.
“The movement of coalition military personnel is part of a long-range plan coordinated with the government of Iraq,” the coalition released in a statement. Camp Taji has historically held up to 2,000 coalition members, most of whom have already left earlier this summer.
Coalition spokesman, U.S. Army Colonel Myles Caggins III said at the ceremony: “This is an important day. The coalition is leaving our site inside Camp Taji, transferring out of this base, and handing over $347m of property, equipment, and enhanced training facilities to the Iraqi security forces.
“We are making these transitions because the Iraqi security forces are successful against Daesh (ISIS),” Caggins said.
“Today, the Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga [Kurdish forces] are better led, better trained, and better equipped to defeat ISIS permanently,” he added. But whether the Iraqi Security Forces can handle and rein in the Iranian proxy militias is another story.
After dozens of attacks by Iranian-led militias against the coalition troops in Iraq, including in Camp Taji, the U.S. responded with airstrikes. The militias then attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. In response, the Americans took out in a drone strike the commander of one of those militias, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, along with Iranian MG Qassem Soleimani whose Quds Force was controlling the militias.
Following the high-profile killings, Iraq’s Parliament ordered all foreign troops to leave Iraq, which the coalition troops had been steadily disengaging from and leaving.
President Trump recently met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and stated that he would withdraw American soldiers from Iraq. The United States still has approximately 5,000 soldiers in Iraq; about 2,500 coalition troops also remain. Al-Kadhimi has the inevitable task of reining in the Iranian-led militias that do not recognize his government and take their orders from Tehran.
“This is truly a historic day,” USAF Major General Kenneth Ekman, the deputy commander of the task force, said. “For the past six years, Camp Taji has served as a primary installation for coalition partners to train the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Air Force, and the Qwat al-Khasah. The coalition’s efforts have enabled the Iraqis to train themselves. From this day forward, the ISF will take full responsibility for the facilities and programs at Taji and continue to use the site to lead and conduct training as part of the mission to defeat Daesh remnants,” he added.
“This is what success looks like,” Australian BG Simon Johnstone, CJTF-OIR director of strategy, said in a statement. “The transfer of bases like Taji is part of our campaign plan for the ISF to secure their own future and defend Iraqi sovereignty. The tremendous efforts by the ISF and the Coalition demonstrate our shared commitment from the Coalition and Australia to ensure safety, security, and stability for Iraqi citizens.”
The U.K. withdrew its forces from Camp Taji about a month ago. It will keep about 100 airmen in the country as the Royal Air Force will continue to conduct airstrikes in Iraq and neighboring Syria.