By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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.