WASHINGTON - The U.S. military says it now has fewer than 50,000 troops in Iraq, as it closes in on an official end to combat operations.
In a statement Tuesday, the military said it had completed the drawdown ahead of an August 31 deadline set by President Barack Obama.
U.S. forces will shift to training Iraqi security forces, performing counter-terrorism operations and supporting organizations working to rebuild Iraq.
The troop level is the lowest since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003.
All U.S. troops are due to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
In a speech Monday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden dismissed criticism that the withdrawal has led to more violence, saying “politics, not war, has broken out in Iraq.”
He told a group of military veterans he is “absolutely confident” Iraq will form a government and that the country’s leaders are solving “deep and complex divisions” through negotiation, not war.
Biden also said efforts by the Sunni extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq and the Iranian government to foment sectarian strife in Iraq have “utterly failed.” He called Shi’ite Iran’s influence in Iraq “exaggerated,” despite what he said was a $100 million campaign by Tehran which attempted to affect the outcome of Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary election.
President Obama, who campaigned for the White House on a pledge to end the Iraq war, is expected to deliver a major televised address on Iraq after his August 29 return to Washington from a family vacation in the eastern U.S. state of Massachusetts.
More than 4,400 U.S. service members have been killed and more than 30,000 others wounded during the war in Iraq.
Officials said last week that the U.S. will temporarily boost the number of civilian security contractors in Iraq. As many as 7,000 contractors may be employed to help address U.S. security needs, such as protecting U.S. diplomats and development experts. The number would be reduced as Iraq’s security situation improves.
Source: VOA News