Toward the end of his State of the Union address, President repeated his pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of this August. He said, “Make no mistake: This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”
Not exactly. Many of them are being sent to the expanding war in Afghanistan, but that war, too, has a withdrawal schedule, starting in July 2011.
The point is that the needless, mistaken war, promoted by false intelligence in the heat of the 9/11 trauma, is really drawing to a close. So far, the U.S. military casualties stand at 4,287 dead and 30,182 wounded as of the end of 2009, according to globalsecurity.org. Total cost estimates vary. The National Priorities Project, a research organization in Northampton, Mass., puts it at $747.3 billion.
Almost a year ago, when he set the withdrawal date, the president acknowledged “difficult days ahead” as the United States began to turn over to the Iraqis full responsibility for their security. He said up to 50,000 U.S. troops would remain after the deadline to train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations.
He repeated that phrase last June 30, when American combat forces announced the completion of their withdrawal from Iraqi towns and cities. The Pentagon said that U.S. troop strength had decreased by that date to 131,000 from a high of 165,574 in September 2007. It said the number of con-tractors had decreased from 164,491 to 125,163.
The numbers continue to go down. The Central Command says that U.S. troop strength in Iraq stood at 107,000 as of Jan. 25, The Department of Defense put the total at 102,000 as of Feb. 4.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted just before President Obama took office that it would take two to three years do the safe withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. He called withdrawal “very doable,” although he had earlier warned that a fixed timeline would be “dangerous.” But he always said he would follow presidential orders.
After Aug. 31, with up to 50,000 American troops still in Iraq, the United States will face yet another deadline. The U.S.-Iraq security agreement signed in 2008 commits the United States to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces “from all Iraqi territory, water and airspace no later than the 31st of De-cember 2011.”
The Congressional Budget Office quotes a U.S. Army estimate that units can leave the country at roughly 10,500 troops a month. They take up to three days to reach staging areas in Kuwait. Troops take off from Kuwait International Airport from home stations or other assignments. Equipment not left with the Iraqis is prepared for shipment on transport ships to the United States, Europe, or South Korea.
It looks like an orderly and welcome departure from an unfortunate and unnecessary war.