The U.S. military says its re-positioning some troops from a few smaller bases following a deadly rocket attack in Iraq that claimed the lives of two U.S. troops and a U.K. service member.
Operation Inherent Resolve — the U.S.-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria — told Military Times in an emailed statement Monday that coalition troops were being re-positioned due to the the success of Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS.
“These bases remain under Iraqi control and we will continue our advising partnership for the permanent defeat of Daesh from other Iraqi military bases. The Coalition remains in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq to defeat ISIS,” OIR said.
While Iraqi forces have liberated most of Iraq from ISIS’ control, the U.S. announcement Monday that it’s moving forces follows a couple of high profile rocket attacks in Iraq.
The commander of U.S. Central Command has also voiced difficulties providing protection from rocket attacks targeting coalition forces housed at Iraqi bases.
The re-positioning of coalition forces in Iraq was first reported by NBC News. NBC reported, citing 3 U.S. defense officials, that U.S. troops will be moved from a base near the Syrian border known as al-Qaim and the Qayyarah Airfield West near Mosul.
Al-Qaim has been a hotbed of activity for Iran-backed militias. In December 2019, U.S. warplanes launched retaliatory airstrikes in al-Qaim against an Iran-backed militia known as Kataib Hezbollah.
The militia group is believed to be responsible for over a dozen rocket attacks targeting coalition and U.S. troops.
NBC also reported that U.S. troops will possibly leave the K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk — the site of a deadly Dec. 27, 2019, rocket attack that nearly led to a war with Iran.
The coalition has come under criticism for not fielding counter rocket, artillery, and mortar, or C-RAM systems at Iraqi bases, especially Camp Taji, which has been the target of multiple rocket attacks.
Taji was rocked a second time in a week after 25 rockets slammed the base on Saturday wounding three U.S. troops.
C-RAM systems can be used to defend bases from indirect fire and mortars, but Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the CENTCOM commander, explained they’re often used to bolster the defense of Patriot systems.
Patriot missile batteries are moving into Iraq to help counter a potential Iran ballistic missile strike.
Camp Taji, the Iraqi base hit by 18 rockets on March 11, did not have a C-RAM system. McKenzie told reporters that CENTCOM has to “ruthlessly prioritize” where it places defensive equipment because there are more troops than systems and assets available to protect everyone.
McKenzie said it was an “unpleasant fact” but the U.S. “can’t have C-RAM everywhere.” The CENTCOM commander also noted that the C-RAM is “not a panacea.”
On Friday, McKenzie said the threat from Iran “remains very high” following the latest rocket attack against coalition forces involving an Iran-backed Shia militia.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.