U.S. Combat Mission Ends in Iraq, Obama Says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2010 — Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma today announced the offi­cial end to com­bat oper­a­tions in Iraq dur­ing a prime-time Oval Office address, declar­ing “a new begin­ning” for the Iraqi peo­ple.

“Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom is over,” Oba­ma said, speak­ing just hours after the launch of Oper­a­tion New Dawn in Iraq. “The Iraqi peo­ple now have the lead respon­si­bil­i­ty for the secu­ri­ty of their coun­try.”

Oba­ma offered high praise for the men and women in uni­form whose ser­vice and sac­ri­fice led to this “his­toric moment” in time.

“The Amer­i­cans who have served in Iraq com­plet­ed every mis­sion they were giv­en,” he said. “They defeat­ed a regime that had ter­ror­ized its peo­ple. Togeth­er with Iraqis and coali­tion part­ners who made huge sac­ri­fices of their own, our troops fought block-by-block to help Iraq seize the chance for a bet­ter future.”

That effort came at tremen­dous cost, he said, not­ing more than 4,400 U.S. troops killed and thou­sands more wound­ed dur­ing Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom.

“End­ing this war is not only in Iraq’s inter­est; it is in our own,” Oba­ma said. “The Unit­ed States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its peo­ple. We have sent our young men and women to make enor­mous sac­ri­fices in Iraq and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight bud­gets home.

“We have per­se­vered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi peo­ple: a belief that out of the ash­es of war, a new begin­ning could be born in this cra­dle of civ­i­liza­tion,” he con­tin­ued.

“Through this remark­able chap­ter in the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States and Iraq, we have met our respon­si­bil­i­ty,” he said. “Now, it is time to turn the page.”

Oba­ma out­lined the future role of the tran­si­tion­al force of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq through Decem­ber 2011. They’ll advise and assist Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, sup­port Iraqi troops in tar­get­ed coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions and pro­tect U.S. civil­ians.

“Con­sis­tent with our agree­ment with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year,” he said.

And as the mil­i­tary draws down, civil­ian diplo­mats, aid work­ers and advi­sors will step up to help Iraq strength­en its gov­ern­ment, insti­tu­tions and ties with the region and the world. “This new approach reflects our long-term part­ner­ship with Iraq – one based upon mutu­al inter­ests and mutu­al respect,” the pres­i­dent said.

Oba­ma con­ced­ed that vio­lence in Iraq will not stop with the end of the U.S. com­bat mis­sion there, and that ene­mies of Iraq will keep up their attempts to derail progress. He expressed con­fi­dence, how­ev­er, that the Iraqis have the will, and Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, the capa­bil­i­ty, to stand up to the extrem­ists.

“Ulti­mate­ly, these ter­ror­ists will fail to achieve their goals,” the pres­i­dent said, offer­ing assur­ance that the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to sup­port Iraq as a friend and part­ner.

While build­ing that long-term part­ner­ship, the Unit­ed States will take the lessons learned in Iraq as it con­fronts what Oba­ma called its most press­ing secu­ri­ty chal­lenge: the fight against al-Qai­da.

“As we speak, al-Qai­da con­tin­ues to plot against us, and its lead­er­ship remains anchored in the bor­der region of Afghanistan and Pak­istan,” he said. “We will dis­rupt, dis­man­tle and defeat al-Qai­da, while pre­vent­ing Afghanistan from again serv­ing as a base for ter­ror­ists.

“And because of the draw­down in Iraq,” he said, “we are able to apply the resources nec­es­sary to go on the offense.”

The surge forces in Afghanistan will serve for a lim­it­ed time to break the Taliban’s momen­tum and help the Afghans build their capac­i­ty and secure their future, Oba­ma said. As in Iraq, he said Afghanistan’s future ulti­mate­ly will depend on its own gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty forces’ capa­bil­i­ties.

Toward that end, the Unit­ed States will begin a tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty next July, with the pace of troop reduc­tions based on con­di­tions on the ground. Oba­ma offered assur­ance of endur­ing U.S. sup­port for Afghanistan as this tran­si­tion takes shape.

“But make no mis­take: this tran­si­tion will begin,” he empha­sized, “because open-end­ed war serves nei­ther our inter­ests nor the Afghan people’s.”

One of the lessons of Iraq, he said, is that “Amer­i­can influ­ence around the world is not a func­tion of mil­i­tary force alone.”

“We must use all the ele­ments of our pow­er, includ­ing our diplo­ma­cy, our eco­nom­ic strength and the pow­er of America’s exam­ple, to secure our inter­ests and stand by our allies,” he said.

Oba­ma called the mile­stone achieved today in Iraq a reminder to all Amer­i­cans that “the future is ours to shape, if we move for­ward with con­fi­dence and com­mit­ment.” “It should also serve as a mes­sage to the world that the Unit­ed States intends to strength­en our lead­er­ship in this young cen­tu­ry,” he added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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