Last US combatants leave Iraq

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by ejazr, Aug 20, 2010.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 8, 2009
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    Hyderabad and Sydney


    Published: Aug 19, 2010 23:10 Updated: Aug 19, 2010 23:10

    KHABARI CROSSING, Kuwait: A line of heavily armored American military vehicles, their headlights twinkling in the pre-dawn desert, lumbered past the barbed wire and metal gates marking the border between Iraq and Kuwait early Thursday and rolled into history.

    For the troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism but lightened by the whoops and cheers of soldiers one step closer to going home. Seven years and five months after the US-led invasion, the last American combat brigade was leaving Iraq, well ahead of President Barack Obama's Aug. 31 deadline for ending US combat operations there.

    When 18-year-old Spc. Luke Dill first rolled into Iraq as part of the US invasion, his Humvee was so vulnerable to bombs that the troops lined its floor with flak jackets.

    Now 25 and a staff sergeant after two tours of duty, he rode out of Iraq this week in a Stryker, an eight-wheeled behemoth encrusted with armor and add-ons to ward off grenades and other projectiles.

    “It's something I'm going to be proud of for the rest of my life — the fact that I came in on the initial push and now I'm leaving with the last of the combat units,” he said.

    The US presence is far from over. Scatterings of troops still await departure, and some 50,000 will stay another year in what is designated as a noncombat role. They will carry weapons to defend themselves and accompany Iraqi troops on missions (but only if asked). Special forces will continue to help Iraqis hunt for terrorists.

    So the US death toll — at least 4,415 by Pentagon count as of Wednesday — may not yet be final.

    The Stryker brigade's departure left about 52,600 US troops in Iraq as of Thursday, said Lt. Gen. Robert Cone.

    The US military's top spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, called Iraqi security forces ready to defend the country despite “some violent acts that we've seen.” “Their capability continues to grow, which has enabled us to conduct our responsible drawdown,” Lanza said on CBS's “The Early Show.”

    The US military kept a tight lid on security, restricting the media embedded with the US troops from reporting on the brigade's movements until they were almost to the border.

    The brigade's leadership volunteered to have half of its 4,000 soldiers depart overland instead of taking the traditional flight out, a decision that allowed the unit to keep 360 Strykers in the country for an extra three weeks.

    The remainder of the brigade flew out with the last of the troops later Thursday.

    US commanders say it was the brigade's idea to drive out, not an order from on high. The intent was to keep additional firepower handy through the “period of angst” that followed Iraq's inconclusive March 7 election, said brigade chief, Col. John Norris.

    It took months of preparation to move the troops and armor across more than 500 km of desert highway through potentially hostile territory at night.
  3. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

    Jun 23, 2010
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    Iraq 'independent' as the US combat operation ends

    Iraq's prime minister has said the country is "independent" as the US formally ends combat operations.

    Nouri Maliki said the country's security forces would now deal with all threats, domestic or other.

    US Vice-President Joe Biden is in Iraq on an unannounced visit ahead of the official end of the mission, at midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday.

    In the US, President Barack Obama is due to deliver a televised address about Iraq to the American people.

    "Iraq today is sovereign and independent," Mr Maliki told Iraqis in a televised address.

    "Our security forces will take the lead in ensuring security and safeguarding the country and removing all threats that the country has to weather, internally or externally."

    He assured Iraqis that the security forces were "capable and qualified to shoulder the responsibility".

    'Still occupied'
    Violence in Iraq is down from the peak seen during the sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, although the number of civilian deaths rose sharply in July.

    Almost daily attacks on Iraqi forces and traffic police in Baghdad and Anbar province, west of the capital, killed more than 85 people in the first three weeks of August.

    These attacks may be a response by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq (a branch of al-Qaeda) to the Americans sending all their combat troops home, says the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad.

    In an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, Mr Obama said the "lower and lower levels of violence" in Iraq were proof that the Iraqi security forces were "functioning at least as well if not better than any of us had anticipated".

    While many Iraqis have welcomed the withdrawal, others say they believe it is happening too soon and that the country is not ready to manage its own security.

    Iraq's political leaders have yet to form a government after elections in March resulted in no outright winner.

    "It's not the right time," Johaina Mohammed, a 40-year-old teacher from Baghdad told the Associated Press news agency.

    "There is no government, the security is deteriorating, and there is no trust."

    One Baghdad resident, Ilifat, said, as long as any US soldiers remained in Iraq, he would consider it to be occupied.

    "When the last US soldier leaves Iraqi bases and no US base remains in the country, we will say that the US troops have withdrawn," he told Reuters news agency.

    "Now the US army is still here and the country is occupied, and it will remain occupied. The country is also too weak."

    Gradual pull-out
    White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the withdrawal marked "a change in our mission" in Iraq and that it was up to the Iraqi people to "write the next chapter in Iraqi history".

    "We will be their ally, but the responsibility of charting the future of Iraq first and foremost belongs to the Iraqis," he said.

    The last US combat brigade left Iraq nearly two weeks ago, well ahead of the 31 August target set by President Obama to cut the number of US troops in Iraq below 50,000.

    Around 50,000 US troops will remain in Iraq and will focus on supporting Iraqi forces.

    Gen Robert Cone, the deputy commander of US troops in Iraq, told the BBC that the greatest assistance would be needed in the areas of logistics, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

    US troops will not participate in combat missions unless asked by the Iraqi authorities, or if acting in self-defence.

    "The reality is you can't be in those kinds of environments and solely be an adviser," Gen Cone said.

    "The soldiers that are left here, if you look at what our job descriptions are, a good number of us are combat soldiers but we're performing missions other than a primary combat role.

    "I can assure that every American that is left in this country has the right and responsibility to self-defence."

    Air cover for Iraqi ground operations is provided almost exclusively by US planes and helicopters, says our correspondent, as the new Iraqi air force is still in its infancy.

    All US forces must be gone by the end of next year.

    BBC News - Iraq 'independent' as the US combat operation ends

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