Last U.S. combat brigade leaves Iraq
Published Thursday, August 19, 2010 8:07PM EDT
Seven-and-a-half years after the United States invaded Iraq, the last U.S. combat brigade is heading home.
Troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, lumbered across the Iraqi border into Kuwait in heavily-armoured vehicles early Thursday, a few weeks before U.S. President Barack Obama's Aug. 31 deadline for ending combat operations in Iraq.
A spokesperson for the U.S. forces in that country said Iraqi forces are up to the task of keeping the country secure, but added the faster the government is seated the better.
Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza told CBS television that Iraqi's security forces have taken great strides since 2003 and are professional.
Some 50,000 U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq to train the country's security forces as part of Operation New Dawn. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. will also double the number of private security forces in the country to 7,000.
Lanza said fewer than 6,000 combat troops are still in the country before the withdrawal deadline.
But some analysts say the U.S. is playing politics, when it says its combat troops are leaving.
"The administration will make a big deal out of this, it carried out a campaign promise to end the war in Iraq," Harlan Ullman of The Atlantic Institute, and a retired naval commander, told CTV's Canada AM Thursday.
"While it is true (the remaining troops) are supposed to assist and advise, they have the same combat capabilities of regular brigades. This is more a show than it is real."
Ullman said Iraq's incapability of seating a government suggests there are going to be a significant gap left by the U.S. drawdown.
Former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said Americans have far from finished their job in Iraq, which still doesn't have a functioning government and where violence seems to be on the rise again.
"We're going to have to leave a large footprint behind, and this is not going away for us as an issue," he told CNN.
Obama has pledged to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2011. However, insurgents continue to attack the country's security forces and institutions. Among the latest violence was a suicide bombing that killed 61 army recruits in Baghdad earlier this week.
According to Pentagon numbers, 4,419 American troops have died in Iraq and nearly 32,000 have been wounded.
More than 100,000 Iraqis are believed to have died in the war, and debate continues as to whether the invasion achieved its goals.
Patrick Basham, director of the Democracy Institute think-tank, said the quality of life likely hasn't improved for most Iraqis.
"Are there some upsides? Yes there are -- mainly the fact that a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, is no longer in power," he said. "But life for the average Iraqi is possibly even worse, particularly in economic terms."
"The public goal of the war was to make us, in the West, more secure," he said. "The great irony of course is there wasn't any al Qaeda terrorism-fostering out of Iraq before the war. And yet 50,000 American troops are going to stay behind to fight al Qaeda -- which I think is the real bottom line in terms of the failure of how this war has been prosecuted."
With a report from CTV's Paul Workman and files from The Associated Press