Obama announces plans to withdraw from Iraq
The president says U.S. forces will number 50,000 by the end of the month.
By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau
August 2, 2010|9:23 a.m.
ATLANTA — President Obama on Monday announced plans to withdraw combat forces in Iraq, providing assurances that an Aug. 31 deadline will be met as the U.S. moves toward a supporting role in the still-fractured and dangerous nation.
U.S. forces in Iraq will number 50,000 by the end of the month — a reduction of 94,000 troops since he took office 18 months ago, the president said in remarks to the Disabled American Veterans. The remaining troops will form a transitional force until a final withdrawal from the country is completed by the end of 2011, he said.
"Already we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundred of bases. We're moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistic operations we've seen in decades," Obama said. "Make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing — from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."
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The president's update served as an opportunity to claim a campaign promise nearly fulfilled — a message that will be repeated in a series of similar events in the coming weeks. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials will be speaking across the country to tout the successful strategy in Iraq, the White House said.
The focus on progress in Iraq comes as Obama tries to regain Congress' confidence that the American-led mission in Afghanistan is succeeding. Last week, 102 Democrats in the House voted against a $59 billion appropriation for both wars, 70 more than opposed a war spending bill a year ago.
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan — 33,000 when Obama took office — will have nearly tripled to 96,000 by September, but a fact sheet released by the White House notes that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will have dropped from 177,000 to 146,000 by the end of August.
There is still much work to be done in Iraq. Politicians remain deadlocked in their attempts to form a new coalition government. The five-month stalemate is expected to stretch into the fall, leaving it all but certain that U.S. combat troops will leave the country without an Iraqi government in place.
The long-term success of security efforts is also uncertain. Iraqi government statistics showed a sharp increase in civilian casualties in last month, although the U.S. military disputed those numbers.
The president made note of the continued dangers, saying, "There are still those with bombs and bullets who will try to stop Iraq's progress. The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq."
Still, the administration has shown no sign of wavering from the August deadline. A transitional government is functioning and stable, said White House spokesman Bill Burton.
"It's something that the president is watching and obviously we're doing what we can to help facilitate them along, " Burton said. "That there is a functional transitional government in place right now is a sign that this process is working. "
Obama was scheduled to attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee later in the day.