U.S. says 12,000 troops will leave Iraq
Two brigade combat teams and associated support troops — as well as a recently redeployed F-16 squadron — will not be replaced in Iraq, military officials said Sunday.
"The time and conditions are right for coalition forces to reduce the number of troops in Iraq," Gen. Ray Odierno, top commander in Iraq, said in a news release. "The successful provincial elections demonstrated the increased capability of the Iraqi army and police to provide security." In coming months, Odierno said, more Iraq flags will go up at joint security stations.
The move announced Sunday would reduce the total number of combat brigades from 14 to 12. The two brigades that won’t be replaced were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months.
Meanwhile, a British combat brigade will also leave without being replaced, officials said.
About 12,000 fewer U.S. and 4,000 fewer British forces will be in Iraq as a result.
The drawdown follows President Barack Obama’s announcement at Camp Lejeune, N.C., last month that all combat troops would be removed from the country within the next 18 months.
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," he said.
But Obama said he plans to leave up to 50,000 troops in the country to advise Iraqi security forces, conduct counter-terrorism missions and protect U.S. personnel.
He gave assurances that his administration would monitor the safety and security of troops and civilians in Iraq, and said there could be adjustments down the line.
Sunday’s announcement also reflects the terms of a security agreement signed between the two countries, in which U.S. troops would be out of Iraqi communities by June 30 and out of the country by the end of 2011.
Obama’s timeline, which he said was reached after a review of the situation by military and national security advisers, has drawn support from Republicans including Arizona Sen. John McCain but criticism by some Democrats that the residual force would be too large.
Removing troops from Iraq is expected to free up forces to fight in Afghanistan, where Obama last month approved an increase of 12,000 combat troops and 5,000 support troops beginning in the spring.