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Marines will leave artillery crews in Iraq pending Army backfill

A company of Marines has stayed behind in Iraq as the rest of their 2,200-person unit wraps up a seven-month deployment and returns to the U.S.

Between 100 and 200 Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Task Force Spartan are still operating at the Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex in northern Iraq. Officials have not specified the exact number of personnel, citing security concerns. The Marines helped establish the base in March, which serves as a key staging area as the Iraqi army attempts to retake Mosul from ISIS.

The rest of the MEU, which was deployed with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, began returning to their bases in North Carolina on Thursday. The unit will return in waves, with all of the Marines slated to be home by Monday.

MEU officials declined to say when Task Force Spartan will leave Iraq.

"[They] will redeploy once they are relieved by an Army unit," according to a Marine Corps news release. "Their exact return date is yet to be officially determined."

U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. The Marines fired upon the enemy infiltration routes in order to disrupt their freedom of movement and ability to attack Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)
U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. The Marines fired upon the enemy infiltration routes in order to disrupt their freedom of movement and ability to attack Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

Marines fire an M777A2 howitzer from Firebase Bell at an ISIS infiltration route on March 18.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Andre Dakis/Marine Corps

Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, a 27-year-old field artilleryman with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, was killed March 19 when ISIS militants launched a rocket attack on the Iraqi firebase, which is roughly 60 miles outside of Mosul. Eight other Marines were injured in the attack.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented Purple Hearts to four of those Marines last week.

The Marines fended off at least one other attack on the base just two days after Cardin's death after a squad-sized team of ISIS fighters infiltrated the area around the base. Two enemy fighters were killed in that operation and "the rest ran away in fear," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman in Baghdad.

The 26th MEU spent the past seven months operating from sea in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Units included BLT, 2/6; Combat Logistics Battalion 26; and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (reinforced).

Earlier this month, the ARG/MEU was replaced by the 13th MEU and the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group.

In addition to manning the firebase, the 26th MEU flew AV-8B Harrier missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon's anti-ISIS mission. The Marines also participated in five theater security cooperation exercises and 11 subject-matter-expert exchanges with partner nations in the region.

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