“As promised and on schedule,” President Obama said US troops will end their combat mission in Iraq at the end of this month. Speaking before a group of Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta on Monday, the president said he was fulfilling a promise he made at Camp LeJeune in February 2009 to “bring the war to a responsible end.”
However, although troops will no longer officially be in combat mode, US forces will remain on the ground until December 2011, according to the terms of a 2008 security agreement between the US and Iraq.
What will be different is the number of troops stationed in Iraq and their responsibilities. By the end of August, approximately 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq and will be used to “train and advise Iraqi Security Forces; conduct partnered and targeted counter-terrorism operations; and protect ongoing US civilian and military efforts,” according to the White House. This role means that the remaining forces – which represent a 65 percent drop from the 2009 count of 144,000 troops – will be supporting the Iraqi Security Forces, which have been heading up security of Iraq’s cities since June 2009.
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This shift in forces also comes with a new name – as of September 1, US military forces will no longer be in Iraq as part of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” but under the banner “Operation New Dawn.” In addition to partnering with the Iraqi Security Forces, US troops will also be engaged in shoring up the “soft” infrastructure by providing guidance on “education, the rule of law, trade and technology,” as specified by the Strategic Agreement.
The force reduction, which Lt. Gen. William Webster, who commands the Third Army, is quoted as calling “the largest operation, that we’ve been able to determine, since the build-up for World War II,” involves moving out not just people, but equipment. The White House says that, by the end of this month, 65 percent of the equipment that was in Iraq in January 2009 will have been moved out, leaving 1.2 million pieces that will go toward equipping the remaining US troops. The relocation also means slashing 22 percent of the military bases from the current count of 121 to 94.
If US troops fully withdraw, as promised in December 2011, they will leave behind State Department representatives who will be protected by a nonmilitary security force, according to an article by McClatchy reporter Warren Strobel. This plan, Strobel reports, was on shaky ground in terms of readiness, as of an April 2010 review by the Commission on Wartime Contracting. In that report, the bipartisan commission said much had to be done for the State Department to be self-sufficient and that there was a high risk for wasteful spending.
Recent media reports tag last month as the most deadly for Iraq’s citizens since 2008 (the US, however disagrees with the tallies). According to iCasualties.org, 4,413 members of US forces have been killed in Iraq since 2003, bringing the total number of deaths of Iraq Coalition members to 4,731.
In 2008, the Senate Intelligence Committee found that then-president George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney knowingly lied to Congress, exaggerating the threat Saddam Hussein posed to US security, and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld manufactured the appearance of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.