A: When it leaves behind 50,000 combat troops and an uncertain number of “advisers.”
WASHINGTON – Democratic Congressional leaders have expressed dismay that President Barack Obama is planning to leave as many as 50,000 US troops in Iraq even after the long-awaited withdrawal of combat troops next year.
Obama, on a visit to a military base in North Carolina today, will announce plans to make good on his campaign pledge to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq. There are about 145,000 US troops in Iraq and Obama is expected to say that most of the combat troops will be withdrawn by August next year.
Similarly, defense officials said they did not know how many combat troops would stay behind as renamed “trainers” and “advisers” in what would effectively be combat roles. Military planners have said that to meet withdrawal deadlines, they would reassign some combat troops to training and support of the Iraqis, even though the troops would still be armed and go on combat patrols with Iraqi soldiers.
It will be interesting to see how this plan conforms to the Status of Forces Agreement we worked out with the Iraqis last year that sets a very hard expiration date on the withdrawal of our troops:
Jan. 1, 2012, was set as the deadline for final withdrawal of all U.S. forces, in a status of forces agreement signed last year by President George W. Bush and the Iraqi government.
After the final SOFA had been worked out and Obama won the election, the government started a semantic tap-dance, proposing that we just re-label combat troops as “advisers,” thereby short-circuiting the clear intent of the Iraqis that we be out of their country by the first day of 2012. Fifty thousand troops is better than 140,000 troops, but that’s certainly not the “end” of the Iraq debacle that the peace and justice movement fought for.
P.S. Tens of thousands of our troops in Vietnam were “advisers.”
Update: Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune appears to leave no wiggle room:
Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.
As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq. We will proceed carefully, and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government. There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments. But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.
After we remove our combat brigades, our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its Security Forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country. As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.
Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.
This seem unequivocal, but “intend” can be a little malleable. All troops out by the end of 2011–this is the standard to which we must hold the administration accountable.