West Wing Briefing

Obama speaks with vets on Iraq drawdown

By Michael D. Shear and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 2, 2010; 12:03 PM

President Obama said Monday he is keeping his promise to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of this month, but he warned that American sacrifice in that country must continue as a "transitional force" remains until the end of next year.

In a speech to the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, Obama recalled that as a presidential candidate in 2008, "I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end." He said, "I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, American combat missions in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing -- as promised and on schedule."

Obama said the 50,000-strong transitional force that remains in Iraq after the end of the month will change the U.S. mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces, partnering with Iraqis in counterinsurgency operations and providing security for U.S. civilian efforts.

But he cautioned that "these are dangerous tasks, and the hard truth is that we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq."

While U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, Obama said, they will continue to face challenges in Afghanistan, where 30,000 U.S. reinforcements are nearly all in place and ready to begin an offensive against the radical Islamist Taliban movement.

At the start of the last presidential campaign, there was one overriding issue on the minds of voters: the Iraq war.

Obama's early opposition to the U.S. invasion, and Hillary Rodham Clinton's refusal to say her defense of it was wrong, animated the Democratic contest then, and for much of the rest of the campaign. Among Republicans, too, the Iraq war dominated the debate, nearly killing John McCain's nomination hopes.

But the economic crisis of late 2008, and the improving security situation in Iraq, pushed George W. Bush's war to the back burner as Obama took office. In the 18 months since, Iraq has rarely made headlines.

Now, even as Obama struggles with the war in Afghanistan, his administration is quietly approaching a milestone in the other war America is waging.

"Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases," Obama said. "We're moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we've seen in decades."

The speech is intended to help Obama check off another of the major promises he made during the campaign, and shortly after becoming commander in chief. Barely a month after he took office, he told a military audience at Camp Lejeune: "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

White House officials are very wary of echoing Bush's pronouncement of: "mission accomplished," especially given the ongoing political turmoil and potential for violence in Iraq. Instead, in his speech, Obama reminded Americans that thousands of troops will remain in the country as a transitional force and will likely face danger.

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