BBC News & Anne Gearan / Associated Press Military Writer – 2009-02-28 00:41:08
Obama Outlines Iraq Pullout Plan
US TROOPS IN IRAQ
* Aug ’10 troops down to 35-50,000
* Dec ’11 all US troops out of Iraq Source: Brookings Institution
WASHINGTON (February 28, 2009) — President Barack Obama has announced the withdrawal of most US troops in Iraq by the end of August 2010. In a speech at a Marine Corps base, he said the US “combat mission” in Iraq would officially end by that time.
But up to 50,000 of 142,000 troops now there will stay into 2011 to advise Iraqi forces and protect US interests, leaving by the end of 2011, he said.
Mr Obama praised the progress made but warned: “Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead.” Some Democrats are concerned that the timetable falls short of his election pledges on troop withdrawal. Mr Obama had said previously that he would completely pull out troops within 16 months of taking the top job.
Earlier this month, he ordered the deployment of up to 17,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan, saying they had been due to go to Iraq but were being redirected to “meet urgent security needs”.
In his address at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, Mr Obama said his national security team had drawn up a “new strategy” for US involvement in Iraq.
The strategy recognised that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political and that the most important decisions about its future must now be made by Iraqis, he said.
“We have also taken into account the simple reality that America 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 – and these are challenges that we will meet.”
Mr Obama said all US troops would have left Iraq by the end of 2011, in line with an agreement signed between the two countries last year. And he paid tribute to US forces who have served in Iraq over the past six years.
“Thanks to the sacrifices of those who have served, we have forged hard-earned progress, we are leaving Iraq to its people, and we have begun the work of ending the war.” He also said his administration would increase the numbers of soldiers and Marines, in order to lessen the burden on those now serving, and was committed to expanding veterans’ health care.
Addressing the Iraqi people directly, Mr Obama said theirs was “a great nation” that had persevered with resilience through tyranny, terror and sectarian violence. He went on: “So to the Iraqi people: let me be clear about America’s intentions. The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources. We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country. We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country.”
Mr Obama said that as a result of lessons learned from Iraq, he had ordered a review of US policy in Afghanistan and put the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan into the federal budget.
Stressing that Iraq’s future was inseparable from that of the broader Middle East, Mr Obama said the US would now “pursue principled and sustained engagement with all of the nations in the region, and that will include Iran and Syria”.
The new US ambassador to Iraq would be Christopher Hill, the former US chief negotiator with North Korea, the president added.
The withdrawal plan is a middle way between the speedy reduction Mr Obama envisaged during his election campaign and the slower one some military leaders may prefer, BBC North America editor Justin Webb says. Mr Obama wants only two combat brigades to leave this year but after December elections in Iraq the pace should quicken, our correspondent says.
The BBC’s Mike Sergeant in Baghdad says that security in Iraq is now better and people say they are ready for US forces to leave. However, some are deeply worried about what exactly will happen when US combat troops disappear, our correspondent says.
While Iraq’s security forces are much more capable now, they depend heavily on US back-up for logistics, intelligence and air support, our correspondent says. A great deal of American financial and practical support may be needed for many years.
Democrats have expressed concern that the troop withdrawal is being watered down, with the bulk of troops being left in place until next year. However, some sceptics have said that a fast withdrawal could reverse the dramatic but fragile gains in security in Iraq.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described Mr Obama’s plan as “sound and measured” but said the US “must keep in Iraq only those forces necessary for the security of our remaining troops and the Iraqi people”.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the plan was “good news” because it signalled an end to the war, but called for clearly-defined missions for the remaining troops.
Republicans – including Senator John McCain, Mr Obama’s former rival for the presidency – broadly supported the plan but suggested Mr Obama should give credit to President George W Bush for the stability brought by his “surge” strategy of pouring extra troops into Iraq.
House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner said Mr Obama had outlined “a responsible approach that retains the flexibility to reconsider troop levels and to respond to changes in the security environment”.
REACTION TO BARACK OBAMA’S IRAQ PLAN
• President Obama very appropriately and correctly thanked US Marines for precipitating the turnabout in Iraq. But if there is a chance of success in Iraq now as defined by Barack Obama, shouldn’t there be some mention of the change in strategy, and the former Commander in Chief, the guy who hung in there?
— Marc Ambinder
• Several Democratic leaders have voiced strong concerns about the size of the “transition force.” What’s more, for all of the success in reducing violence in Iraq, long-term political progress remains elusive, and will have to be a high priority for the administration. Still, Obama has outlined the beginning of the end. It’s about time.
— Steve Benen
• In 2003, then Maj Gen David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division that had participated in the invasion of Iraq, had a running joke with an embedded reporter… The general would turn to the reporter and muse, “Tell me how this ends.” Today at Camp Lejeune… President Barack Obama – an antiwar Illinois state senator at the time of the invasion – answered Petraeus.
— Spencer Ackerman,
• 2011 just became a hard stop, I think. When presidents lay down markers like that, they don’t easily walk away from them. It’s now what Iraqi politicians described it as: the American Withdrawal of Forces Agreement. I fear Iraqi domestic political convenience just became American strategic reality. This converts the SOFA from a framework for a long-term strategic partnership to a guarantee of withdrawal.
© BBC MMIX
Change? What Change?
US To Leave Residual Force Of 50,000 In Iraq After “Pullout”
Anne Gearan / Assiciated Press Military Writer
WASHINGTON (February 26, 2009 ) — Some of the US forces likely to remain in Iraq after President Barack Obama fulfills his pledge to withdraw combat troops would still have a combat role fighting suspected terrorists, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
Obama could announce his withdrawal strategy as early as Friday. He will travel that day to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the White House announced Wednesday.
While there Obama is expected to outline a compromise withdrawal plan that leaves behind as many as 50,000 troops for cleanup and protection operations.
Although most of the fighting forces would be withdrawn in the next 18 months, some of those units could be in Iraq for years to come. An agreement forged by the Bush administration with Iraqi officials requires removal of all US forces by 2012.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that a holdover, or “residual,“ force would number in the tens of thousands.
His spokesman said Wednesday that assuming there is such a force, it would have three primary functions: Training and helping Iraqi forces; protecting Americans and US assets in Iraq and limited counterterrorism operations in which Iraqi forces would take the lead.
“I think a limited number of those that remain will conduct combat operations against terrorists, assisting Iraqi security forces,“ Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. “By and large you’re talking about people who we would classify as enablers, support troops.“
Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war, and pledged to do so in 16 months. The withdrawal timetable he is expected to approve would stretch over 19 months, counting from Inauguration Day. That means more than 100,000 troops would leave over the coming 18 months.
The pullout would free up troops and resources for the war in Afghanistan, where Obama has said the threat to national security remains high.
“We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war,“ Obama said in his address to Congress on Tuesday.
Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and others met with Obama at the White House on Wednesday. There was no announcement afterward.
“The president has not made a final decision about our force structure in Iraq going forward,“ White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t think it would be a surprise, though, to anybody in this room that the president since his first full day in office has been working toward a solution that would responsibly draw down our troops in Iraq.“ Morrell said he anticipates an announcement this week.
The role and makeup of residual forces has been unclear throughout last year’s negotiations between the United States and Iraq, and during Obama’s planning for an exit strategy.
Plans became only slightly clearer Wednesday. Morrell said many troops would be long-term advisers in such areas as intelligence, or would help the Iraqi military fill in gaps in equipment such as helicopters.
Although he said Iraq would still be considered a “war zone,“ Morrell said most remaining forces would not do anything that resembles fighting.
“But just because these troops would carry a sidearm, as all US troops do in theater, that should not be confused with them having a combat mission,“ Morrell said.
“For example, US personnel assigned to the Ministry of Finance may have a sidearm, but I doubt they’d consider themselves a combat force, and certainly wouldn’t be equipped in that fashion to perform combat operations.“
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