President Barack Obama announced the end of America’s combat mission in Iraq Tuesday evening, acknowledging the “enormous sacrifices” troops have made since military operations began in Iraq more than seven years ago.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom is over,” Obama said.
U.S. operations in Iraq will take on a transitional approach, Obama said, as some troops will remain on the ground to advise and assist Iraqi security forces. These troops will be gone by the end of this year, he said.
“Iraqis are a proud people,” the president said from his desk in the Oval Office. “They have rejected sectarian war and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets.”
“Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders,” Obama continued. “What American can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.”
The United States has paid a “huge price,” Obama said, in assisting Iraq.
More than 4,400 American soldiers died and more than 31,000 were wounded since former President George W. Bush announced the start of the war in March 2003. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.
The United States still has an active presence in Afghanistan, and Obama said additional troops would be deployed to the country to “break the Taliban’s momentum.” Obama was quick to explain that this would be a temporary measure, and a transition to Afghan responsibility would begin in August 2011.
Obama also used the national address as a moment to comment on economic policy, citing massive spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — to the tune of more than $1 trillion — as part of the reason behind rising U.S. deficits.
The restoration of the economy is the nation’s “most urgent task,” the president said.
“And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy and grit and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad,” Obama said. “They have met every test that they faced. Now, it is our turn.”