Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said Iraqis must take responsibility for their own security as the U.S. withdraws combat forces over the next 18 months and removes all troops by the end of 2011.
“Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end,” Obama told an audience of Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
While Iraq isn’t yet fully secure, Obama said, its security forces have improved and the political situation has stabilized to the point where there is “renewed cause for hope” that the country can begin to stand on its own.
“America’s men and women in uniform have fought block by block, province by province, year after year, to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future,,” Obama said. “Now, we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it.”
There are about 142,000 U.S. military personnel now in Iraq, and Obama will leave 35,000 to 50,000 troops there to train and advise Iraqi forces, conduct counter-terrorism operations and protect U.S. civilian workers. By Dec. 31, 2011, all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq, as is called for in an agreement with Iraqi leaders negotiated under former President George W. Bush.
Refocusing on Afghanistan
The withdrawal schedule, three months longer than the timetable Obama promised during the presidential campaign, will start to unwind U.S. involvement in a conflict that has lost public support. It will help the administration put more military resources into Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents are increasing attacks and ramping up pressure on the U.S.-backed government. Obama already has ordered 17,000 more U.S. personnel into the eight-year-old conflict there.
The U.S. “can no longer afford to see Iraq in isolation from other priorities: we face the challenge of refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan; of relieving the burden on our military; and of rebuilding our struggling economy,” Obama said.
The president said the drawdown will be conducted in a way that doesn’t endanger troops. The plan leaves room for a pause in withdrawals, if needed.
“My highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq. We will proceed carefully,” he said. “There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments.”
Timing of Withdrawals
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who spoke to reporters after Obama’s speech, said the bulk of the combat unit withdrawals will come toward the end of the 18-month period, after Iraqis hold a series of national and local elections.
The timeline “provides the maximum available force” if there’s an outbreak of violence related to the vote, he said.
The president briefed leaders of the Senate and the House and the senior members of key committees in both chambers last night. Although some Democrats have expressed reservations about size of the residual force, Obama’s plan won support from his Republican opponent in the 2008 presidential election.
Senator John McCain of Arizona said today on the Senate floor that Obama’s plan is “reasonable.” He added that it’s “not without risks,” especially in the run-up to Iraq’s national elections in December and immediately afterward.
As the Republican presidential nominee, McCain clashed with Obama over U.S. involvement in Iraq, at one point saying that the Democrat would “rather lose a war than lose a campaign.”
McCain said today that, given the president’s willingness to reassess if conditions change, “I am cautiously optimistic that the plan as laid out by the president can lead to success.”
Other Republicans were supportive as well. House Minority leader John Boehner of Ohio said Obama “outlined a responsible approach” to the withdrawal.
Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a critic of the war, called the timetable “realistic” and said Obama was right to leave sufficient force behind to finish training of Iraqi troops.
Several Democrats said they were concerned about the contingent that will be left until the end of 2011. Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina, an Iraq War opponent, said he was “not troubled” that the timetable is three months longer than Obama promised during his campaign.
“I am somewhat concerned about the residual force, how long they will be there, to what extent they will be in harm’s way and how much humor the Iraqi people will show for continued presence,” Miller said after the president’s address.
Responding to Skeptics
In response to skeptical remarks from fellow Democrats, Obama said afterward that his plan is consistent with what he promised during the campaign, including moving forward in consultation with military commanders.
“This is basically the thrust that I have been talking about for several years, and I think it is a responsible solution,” he said on the PBS “Newshour” program, which released a transcript of the interview.
Obama also announced that Christopher Hill, who was the top U.S. diplomat on North Korea, will be the new ambassador to Iraq. He will take the lead for the U.S. there while the withdrawals are under way.
Obama called Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki from Air Force One to brief him on his speech, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. Obama also made a “courtesy” call to his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who sent U.S. troops into Iraq in March 2003.
The president reached his decision on the timetable after consulting with more than a dozen working groups of experts and military leaders, including Gates, General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Central Asia and the Middle East; General Raymond Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gates and other administration officials said a prime consideration throughout the weeks of debate was to avoid endangering the gains achieved in Iraq.
The security situation has improved since 2007 after a U.S. troop “surge” ordered by Bush, the enlistment of U.S.-backed Sunni tribesmen opposed to al-Qaeda and a cease-fire called by anti-U.S. Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr. The number of insurgent attacks fell to their lowest monthly level since the 2003 invasion at the end of last year, according to the U.S. military.
Gates said Ordierno will make recommendations about the pace of the withdrawal and Obama “retains the flexibility” to make changes.
After his address, Obama met with about 30 wounded Marines and their families at the base.
Withdrawing from Iraq
Posted 09 March 2009 - 10:39 PM
Posted 10 March 2009 - 06:34 AM
Currently debriefing at Ft.Dix.
Posted 10 March 2009 - 07:42 AM
Grandson arrived in the states from Iraq last week!
Currently debriefing at Ft.Dix.
A veteran - whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve
- is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The 'United States of America', for an amount of 'up to and including my life.'
That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.
- Author Unknown