Despite formal combat end, US joins Baghdad battle
By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press Writer – Sun Sep 5, 4:52 pm ET
BAGHDAD – Days after the U.S. officially ended combat operations and touted Iraq's ability to defend itself, American troops found themselves battling heavily armed militants assaulting an Iraqi military headquarters in the center of Baghdad on Sunday. The fighting killed 12 people and wounded dozens.
It was the first exchange of fire involving U.S. troops in Baghdad since the Aug. 31 deadline for formally ending the combat mission, and it showed that American troops remaining in the country are still being drawn into the fighting.
The attack also made plain the kind of lapses in security that have left Iraqis wary of the U.S. drawdown and distrustful of the ability of Iraqi forces now taking up ultimate responsibility for protecting the country.
Sunday's hour-long assault was the second in as many weeks on the facility, the headquarters for the Iraqi Army's 11th Division, pointing to the failure of Iraqi forces to plug even the most obvious holes in their security.
Two of the four attackers even managed to fight their way inside the compound and were only killed after running out of ammunition and detonating explosives belts they were wearing.
The American troops who joined the fight and provided cover fire for Iraqi soldiers pursuing the attackers were based at the compound to train Iraqi forces, said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Bloom. Iraqi forces also requested help from U.S. helicopters, drones and explosives experts, he said. No American troops were hurt, Bloom said.
Under an agreement between the two countries, Iraq can still call on American forces to assist in combat and U.S. troops can defend themselves if attacked.
In Sunday's assault, six militants wearing explosives vests and matching track suits and armed with machine guns and hand grenades pulled up at a checkpoint with an explosives-laden car, said a senior Iraqi military intelligence official who was inside the building at the time.
The six assailants left the car and started shooting, killing a soldier at the checkpoint, he said. Guards at an observation tower returned fire, killing four militants, while two entered a building in the military compound.
Iraqi soldiers shot and killed a seventh attacker who was driving the vehicle, causing the car bomb to explode, the official said. The blast left behind a gaping crater in the ground.
The fighting came to an end after the two assailants who breached the compound ran out of bullets and detonated their explosives vests, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Two weeks earlier, an al-Qaida-linked suicide bomber waded into a crowd of hundreds of army recruits outside the building and detonated a blast that killed 61 people. That was the deadliest act of violence in Baghdad in months.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's attack.
Baghdad has been on high alert since President Barack Obama declared the official end to U.S. combat operations on Wednesday, setting up more checkpoints, intensifying searches of people and vehicles and handing out more guns and bullets to troops guarding the capital.
The number of U.S. troops has fallen from a high of 170,000 to just under 50,000 this August; all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by 2012.
The remaining American soldiers have a noncombat role and mostly assist Iraqis in stabilizing the country. However, U.S. forces can still help Iraqi forces hunt down al-Qaida and other militants and can defend themselves or their bases against attacks.
Insurgents have intensified their strikes on Iraqi police and soldiers to mark the change in the U.S. mission.
Iraq's political instability now appears to be threatening the country's security. Six months after an inconclusive election, Iraq still has no new government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, is struggling to keep his job after his political coalition came in a close second to a Sunni-backed alliance in the March 7 vote.
Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Rebecca Santana and Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.
The Drug Cartel......Stratfor Global Intelligence
Mexico: The Arrest of La Barbie
August 30, 2010
The Mexican Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) confirmed that members of the Federal Police detained former Beltran Leyva Organization top enforcer, Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal. Several Mexican media outlets have reported that the operation that netted Valdez Villarreal took place outside of Toluca, Mexico state, while others have reported that the operation actually took place near the Morelos and Guerrero state borders. Federal Police had reportedly launched an operation to capture Valdez Villarreal on Aug. 9 at a luxury condominium complex in the Bosque de Las Lomas neighborhood of Mexico City but missed him by a few hours, indicating that the Mexican government was close to capturing him for some time before his arrest. The arrest of such high-profile and public figure in the Mexican drug-trafficking scene is a huge success for the Mexican government on both a tactical and public relations level.
Valdez Villarreal has been locked in heated battle with his former colleague, Hector “El H” Beltran Leyva, for control over the territory once occupied by the Beltran Leyva Organization under now-deceased leader Arturo Beltran Leyva. Hector has since gone on to form Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS) and has been waging war against the former BLO elements loyal to Valdez Villarreal. The arrest of Valdez Villarreal is a tremendous blow to the leadership of his faction of the BLO, and it is unclear at this point who if anyone will take the place of Valdez Villarreal. Additionally, the detention of Valdez Villarreal also will provide Mexican authorities with a treasure trove of timely, actionable tactical intelligence about his organization’s operations, which could lead to more arrests in the near future. Furthermore, should Valdez Villarreal choose to cooperate with Mexican authorities, he could provide an enormous amount of information about rival organizations as well.
The arrest of Valdez Villarreal also comes at a time when President Felipe Calderon’s war against the cartels has been drawing some negative attention due to the high levels of violence and a recent, ominous escalation in tactics over the past week with increased use of improvised explosive devices. Valdez Villarreal was well known for his ruthlessness and brutality in dealing with his rivals, and his arrest will be a public relations coup for the Mexican government even though it will do little to quell the violence in places like Juarez and Monterrey.
Power Struggle Among Russia's Militants
August 19, 2010 | 0856 GMT
By Ben West and Lauren Goodrich
On Aug. 12, four members of the militant group the Caucasus Emirate (CE) appeared in a video posted on a Russian militant website withdrawing their support from CE founder and leader Doku Umarov. The reason for the mutiny was Umarov’s Aug. 4 retraction of his Aug. 1 announcement that he was stepping down from the top leadership position. STRATFOR and many others noted at the time that the Aug. 1 resignation was unexpected and suggested that Umarov may have been killed. However, the Aug. 4 retraction revealed that Umarov was still alive and that there was considerable confusion over who was in control of the militant group.
The mutineers were all high-level members of the militant group: Hussein Gakayev, commander of the CE’s Chechen forces; Aslambek Vadalov, commander of Dagestani forces and to whom Umarov had briefly turned over control in his Aug. 1 resignation; an Arab commander named Muhannad; and a veteran field commander known as Tarkhan. The four CE commanders said Umarov’s renunciation showed disrespect for his subordinates and that, while the four leaders continued to pledge support to the CE, they no longer supported Umarov. Gakayev, Tarkhan and Muhannad had all appeared in a video that aired Aug. 1 in which they supported Umarov’s decision to appoint Vadalov CE emir.
To further confuse the issue, a video released Aug. 11 by Emir Adam, the CE leader in Ingushetia, pledged his and his followers’ loyalty to Umarov. The next day, another video appeared featuring the group’s new leader in Dagestan, Emir Seyfullakh Gubdensky (who succeeded Vadalov after he became deputy leader of the CE), similarly endorsing Umarov’s reclamation of the top CE post.
These disparate messages from top leaders paint a picture of confusion and dissension in the CE that appears to mark a serious crisis for a group, which, until recently, had been consolidating militant groups across the Caucasus under a single, more strategic leadership structure. STRATFOR has collected insight from sources familiar with the group and its leadership turmoil that explains what happened and the nature of the threat that the CE poses to Russian security in the Caucasus.
The Inside Story
According to a Russian source, the confusion caused by Umarov’s apparent indecision over the CE leadership position was a deliberate operation by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). According to that source, the operation that ultimately appears to have undermined Umarov’s position as leader of the CE began in early 2010. However, the FSB received intelligence only over the past two months that set the stage for executing the operation. That intelligence allegedly came from the CE’s former leader in Ingushetia, Emir Ali Taziyev, who was arrested by the FSB on June 9 in an Ingushetian village. Taziyev allegedly provided the FSB information on the CE’s training, ideology, weapons procurement and leadership structure. This information then allowed the FSB to activate a sleeper agent, Movladi Udugov, who served directly under Umarov as the CE’s head of media and publicity. According to our source, Udugov was responsible for the unauthorized release of the video in which Umarov announced that he was stepping down and named Vadalov as his successor.
The story goes that Umarov had recorded the video with the intent of saving it and releasing it only in the event of his demise. This would ensure that a crisis of succession wouldn’t erupt because of his death or disappearance. The fact that Vadalov was named as his successor on July 25 means that each of the regional leaders within the CE had likely agreed to the decision. It is important to note that the leadership crisis did not occur because Vadalov was assigned to the post, but because Umarov appeared to have stepped down and then reclaimed his title. Udugov provided the crucial blow to Umarov’s status as leader of the CE by releasing the resignation video prematurely, laying the foundation for dissension among Umarov’s followers.
The resulting flurry of approval and disapproval from the CE’s corps of commanders shows just how damaging the videos were. We have to be critical of the Russian source’s account of how all of this transpired, since the source is likely interested in promoting the FSB’s capabilities and its penetration of Russia’s most dangerous militant group. The account is logical, however, since it does explain the unusual sequence of videos, and the FSB is capable of infiltrating such a group. There are, of course, other explanations for what could have motivated Udugov to release the tape: Perhaps he was trying to trigger a power struggle within the group on his own, or perhaps someone else inside the CE obtained the tape and released it in hopes of weakening Umarov or promoting Vadalov. However, it is very unlikely that the release was a mistake, since Umarov and his commanders have proved very competent at running a successful militant movement.
Looking deeper, it becomes obvious that a video alone would not have caused dissension on the scale that we are seeing now within the CE. Had everything been perfect in the CE and had Umarov enjoyed unwavering support, he could have dismissed the video as an attempt to undermine his authority, promised to punish those responsible and gone on with business. It is very apparent that Umarov was not able to do this. The release of the videos exacerbated divisions among CE factions that Umarov and his deputies were trying to consolidate. By releasing the video of Umarov stepping down as commander, Udugov (allegedly under FSB guidance) forced the divisions into the public spotlight.
According to our Russian source, the resignation scandal has split the CE three ways. The first split concerns operational security. The CE knew that penetrating the group was a top priority for the FSB and that it had to remain vigilant against outsiders attempting to do just that. Simply the allegation that one of Umarov’s top advisers was working for the FSB undermines the sense of operational security throughout the entire group. Already, accusations of FSB involvement in the CE leadership crisis have emerged in the open-source network, on sites like globaljihad.net. In such an atmosphere, the level of trust among commanders decreases (as they begin to wonder who is reporting to the FSB) and the level of paranoia increases. Infighting at the top of any organization can quickly create operational gridlock and reduce the organization’s effectiveness. This is exactly why the Russians might try to claim credit for the tape’s release, even if they were not responsible.
The second split is generational and ideological. According to our source, a younger faction of the CE (led by Vadalov) has accused Umarov and his cadre of not protecting the ideological unity of the CE. It is no secret that Umarov is much more experienced in and knowledgeable of military strategy and tactics, while his background in Islamism is weak. He has bungled religious protocol and terminology a number of times, undermining his authority as emir of the group. Meanwhile, the older, more military-oriented faction accuses the younger faction of being willing to work with Moscow and sell out the movement.
The third and possibly most volatile fault line is the tension between regional groups within the Caucasus Emirate. The northern Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan each have their own, independent histories of militancy, with Chechen militants traditionally being Moscow’s highest-profile antagonists. Without the support of the Chechen commander of the CE (Khusein Gakayev, who withdrew his support for Umarov in the Aug. 12 video), Umarov has a serious deficit of support in controlling the Caucasus Emirate. The advantage of having the support of the current Ingushetian and Dagestani militant leaders is diluted by the fact that Chechnya geographically lies directly between them, rendering any trans-Caucasus network incomplete. Also, Chechens have been the more successful leaders of militant movements in the Caucasus. Umarov himself is Chechen, as was Shamil Basayev, a commander of Chechen separatist forces in two wars against Russia.
Threat and Inherent Weaknesses
It is exactly because of Doku Umarov’s ability to bring together militants of different motivations, generations and locations under the umbrella of the Caucasus Emirate that made his group so threatening to the Russian state. As a unified militant group, the CE proved capable of launching a suicide attack against Moscow’s subway system in March 2010 and carrying out relatively sophisticated attacks targeting security forces and infrastructure. The CE leadership structure provided strategic guidance to the individual militant groups operating in the separate republics that actually carried out the attacks. With the recent crisis in leadership, these capabilities will likely be severely weakened.
Umarov announced the formation of the CE only in 2007, which means the group was just three years old when the leadership turmoil broke out Aug. 1. This is precious little time to consolidate militant groups across a region with sharp geographic fragmentation that traditionally has caused groups to be isolated and independent. Moscow has had plenty of problems controlling the region and is faced with the same geographic challenges as the Caucasus Emirate. A different source familiar with the CE said that Umarov has most recently attempted to consolidate the CE by broadcasting his statements in different languages, such as Avar, which is widely spoken in Dagestan. But Avar is only one of 10 languages spoken across Dagestan alone, which makes communicating efficiently to an audience across the Caucasus a difficult task.
That same source has said that the CE has had trouble moving food, supplies, weapons and people across the Caucasus (this effort is complicated by Russian security forces as well as geography), which means that each group is responsible for providing for itself. This prevents standardization across the militant movement and complicates cooperation among groups. It also reduces the reliance of regional militant groups on the Caucasus Emirate leadership, decreasing Umarov’s control over the movement. If militant commanders in Chechnya are supplying and recruiting on their own, they are less likely to take orders on what to do with those resources from detached leaders. However, lack of unity among the groups does not necessarily make them less able to carry out the small-scale attacks that are common in the Caucasus. On Aug. 17, five days after a split in the CE leadership became apparent, a suicide bomber (most likely affiliated with a group linked to the CE) attacked a police checkpoint along the border of Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
Militant groups existed in the Caucasus long before the Caucasus Emirate was formed and will continue to exist long after it is gone. The strategic importance of the Caucasus and the fragmentation of its inhabitants due to ethnicity, culture and geography (which makes for ideal guerrilla-warfare terrain), ensure that whoever attempts to control the region will face serious challenges from local populations who want to govern themselves. With varying levels of success, these groups will continue to use violence to undermine their respective governments, especially those seen as Moscow’s lackeys.
Indeed, even though the Caucasus Emirate may be seriously disrupted by recent turmoil in its leadership structure, the regional militant groups that made up the CE will certainly continue to conduct attacks against security forces and even civilians as they try to loosen Moscow’s control over the region. But the turmoil will reduce the strategic threat the combined efforts of these disparate groups had posed to Moscow for the foreseeable future.
href="http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100818_power_struggle_among_russias_militants">Power Struggle Among Russia's Militants is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
The White House
President Barrack Obama
Shortly after taking office, I put forward a plan to end the war in Iraq responsibly. Today, I'm pleased to report that -- thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians in Iraq -- our combat mission will end this month, and we will complete a substantial drawdown of our troops.
Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi Security Forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role. And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort.
A few weeks ago, men and women from one of the most deployed brigades in the U.S. Army, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, returned home from Iraq. The Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden were at Fort Drum to welcome the veterans home and spoke about their personal experiences as a military family:
Our commitment to our troops doesn't end once they come home -- it's only the beginning. Part of ending a war responsibly is meeting our responsibility to the men and women who have fought it. Our troops and their families have made tremendous sacrifices to keep our nation safe and secure, and as a nation we have a moral obligation to serve our veterans as well as they have served us.
That's why we're building a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs. We've made one of the largest percentage increase in the VA’s budget in 30 years, and we're dramatically increasing funding for veterans' health across the board. In particular, we're delivering unprecedented resources to treat signature wounds of today's wars—Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Our sacred trust to take care of our veterans goes beyond simply healing the wounds incurred in battle. We must ensure that when our veterans leave the Armed Forces, they have the opportunities they need to further their education and support their families. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, some 300,000 veterans and families members have pursued a college degree. Others are taking advantage of job training and placement programs.
My Administration will continue to do our part to support the brave men and women in uniform that have sacrificed so much. But supporting our troops and their families is not just the job of the Federal Government; it's the responsibility of all Americans.
As we mark this milestone in the Iraq war and our troops continue to move out of Iraq, I hope you'll join me in thanking them, and all of our troops and military families, for their service.
President Barack Obama
The Now August 2nd 2010 and Back to Reality February 2009 Speech..President Obama.....
President Obama: "Our commitment in Iraq is changing from a military effort"
US President Barack Obama has confirmed the end of all combat operations in Iraq by 31 August.
Some 50,000 of 65,000 US troops currently in Iraq are set to remain until the end of 2011 to advise Iraqi forces and protect US interests.
Mr Obama proclaimed that the end of operations would arrive "as promised and on schedule".
It comes amid a dispute between the US and Baghdad over the latest casualty numbers in Iraq.
The thrust of Mr Obama's speech was the fulfilment of his campaign promise to end the Iraq war, which was a defining characteristic of his 2008 candidacy.
Mr Obama made his announcement in a speech to the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, Georgia.
The remaining 50,000 troops will stay in the country in order to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide civilians with ongoing security, said Mr Obama.
An agreement negotiated with the Iraqis in 2008 states that these troops must be gone from the country by the end of next year.
But the president warned the US had "not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq".
He added: "But make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing - from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."
Meanwhile, according to the US military, 222 people died in attacks last month. Baghdad says 535 lost their lives - which would make July the deadliest month in the country for more than two years.
Kevin Connolly BBC News, Washington
Barack Obama made his promise to end combat operations in Iraq last year - the purpose of today's speech was to remind America's voters that he is keeping that promise.
By the end of the month 90,000 American troops will have been withdrawn and the 50,000 who remain will leave before the end of next year.
By the end of the process, more than 350 bases and 3.5 million pieces of equipment will be closed down, transferred to the Iraqi security forces or redeployed to other American units.
That's a logistical feat on a staggering scale but the president was careful not to repeat the mistake of his predecessor George W Bush who famously declared that America's mission in Iraq had been accomplished seven years ago - long before the violence and instability were ended.
The US released its own figure after Baghdad's estimate prompted concern that insurgents were exploiting a post-election power vacuum - and would wreak more havoc as the US withdrew more troops.
"The claim that July 2010 was the deadliest month in Iraq since May 2008 is incorrect," a US military statement said.
The US offered no full explanation as to why its figures differed so markedly from those issued by the Iraqi authorities.
As the November congressional elections loom, Mr Obama wants to continue to hail the progress his administration has made in Iraq as a success, analysts say.
The BBC's Hugh Sykes reports from Baghdad that some Iraqis worry that attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq are increasing again as the Americans leave.
Two bombings and a shooting killed eight people in Iraq on Monday.
Many Iraqis are also concerned about the failure to form a government, our correspondent says.
Since an inconclusive legislative election in March, Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that won most seats have disagreed about who should be the next Iraqi prime minister.
Fears have been rising that the ongoing political uncertainty could hinder the plans for a full US military departure by the end of 2011.
While the US has been scaling down its troop presence in Iraq, it has been stepping up its military commitment to Afghanistan, with the president ordering a surge of 30,000 additional soldiers there.
31 August will mark the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom
Baghdad reports 535 dead in July
50,000 US troops to remain until end of 2011
US troops scheduled to occupy 94 bases in Iraq by the end of August
"We face huge challenges in Afghanistan," said Mr Obama. "But it's important that the American people know that we are making progress and we're focused on goals that are clear and achievable."
But some are saying Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops in Afghanistan as early as next July could encourage the Taliban and other extremist groups.
Although there has been an increase in US troops in Afghanistan, there are fewer troops in Iraq and Afghanistan today than when Mr Obama first entered the White House.
The Obama administration says once the Iraq withdrawal is finished, there will be a total of 146,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan - which is a drop from 177,000 in January of 2009.
President Obama lays out his plans for Iraq withdrawal
At Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he announced that all combat troops would depart by Aug. 31, 2010.
Following are the president's prepared remarks.
By International Editor / February 27, 2009
Good morning Marines. Good morning Camp Lejeune. Good morning Jacksonville. Thank you for that outstanding welcome. I want to thank Lieutenant General Hejlik for hosting me here today.
I also want to acknowledge all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That includes the Camp Lejeune Marines now serving with – or soon joining – the Second Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq; those with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force in Afghanistan; and those among the 8,000 Marines who are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. We have you in our prayers. We pay tribute to your service. We thank you and your families for all that you do for America. And I want all of you to know that there is no higher honor or greater responsibility than serving as your Commander-in-Chief.
I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Ryan Crocker, who recently completed his service as our Ambassador to Iraq. Throughout his career, Ryan always took on the toughest assignments. He is an example of the very best that this nation has to offer, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude. He carried on his work with an extraordinary degree of cooperation with two of our finest Generals – General David Petraeus, and General Ray Odierno – who will be critical in carrying forward the strategy that I will outline today.
Next month will mark the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq. By any measure, this has already been a long war. For the men and women of America’s armed forces – and for your families – this war has been one of the most extraordinary chapters of service in the history of our nation. You have endured tour after tour after tour of duty. You have known the dangers of combat and the lonely distance of loved ones. You have fought against tyranny and disorder. You have bled for your best friends and for unknown Iraqis. And you have borne an enormous burden for your fellow citizens, while extending a precious opportunity to the people of Iraq. Under tough circumstances, the men and women of the United States military have served with honor, and succeeded beyond any expectation.
Today, I have come to speak to you about how the war in Iraq will end.
To understand where we need to go in Iraq, it is important for the American people to understand where we now stand. Thanks in great measure to your service, the situation in Iraq has improved. Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces, and through our partnership with Sunni Arabs. The capacity of Iraq’s Security Forces has improved, and Iraq’s leaders have taken steps toward political accommodation. The relative peace and strong participation in January’s provincial elections sent a powerful message to the world about how far Iraqis have come in pursuing their aspirations through a peaceful political process.
But let there be no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq. Too many fundamental political questions about Iraq’s future remain unresolved. Too many Iraqis are still displaced or destitute. Declining oil revenues will put an added strain on a government that has had difficulty delivering basic services. Not all of Iraq’s neighbors are contributing to its security. Some are working at times to undermine it. And even as Iraq’s government is on a surer footing, it is not yet a full partner – politically and economically – in the region, or with the international community
In short, today there is a renewed cause for hope in Iraq, but that hope rests upon an emerging foundation.
On my first full day in office, I directed my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of our strategy in Iraq to determine the best way to strengthen that foundation, while strengthening American national security. I have listened to my Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and commanders on the ground. We have acted with careful consideration of events on the ground; with respect for the security agreements between the United States and Iraq; and with a critical recognition that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political – not military. Because the most important decisions that have to be made about Iraq’s future must now be made by Iraqis.
We have also taken into account the simple reality that America can no longer afford to see Iraq in isolation from other priorities: we face the challenge of refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan; of relieving the burden on our military; and of rebuilding our struggling economy – and these are challenges that we will meet.
Today, I can announce that our review is complete, and that the United States will pursue a new strategy to end the war in Iraq through a transition to full Iraqi responsibility.
This strategy is grounded in a clear and achievable goal shared by the Iraqi people and the American people: an Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant. To achieve that goal, we will work to promote an Iraqi government that is just, representative, and accountable, and that provides neither support nor safe-haven to terrorists. We will help Iraq build new ties of trade and commerce with the world. And we will forge a partnership with the people and government of Iraq that contributes to the peace and security of the region.
What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq’s streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq’s union is perfected. We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars. America’s men and women in uniform have fought block by block, province by province, year after year, to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future. Now, we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it.
The first part of this strategy is therefore the responsible removal of our combat brigades from Iraq.
As a candidate for President, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops. Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.
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.
As we responsibly remove our combat brigades, we will pursue the second part of our strategy: sustained diplomacy on behalf of a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq.
The drawdown of our military should send a clear signal that Iraq’s future is now its own responsibility. The long-term success of the Iraqi nation will depend upon decisions made by Iraq’s leaders and the fortitude of the Iraqi people. Iraq is a sovereign country with legitimate institutions; America cannot – and should not – take their place. However, a strong political, diplomatic, and civilian effort on our part can advance progress and help lay a foundation for lasting peace and security.
This effort will be led by our new Ambassador to Iraq – Chris Hill. From his time in the Peace Corps, to his work in Kosovo and Korea, Ambassador Hill has been tested, and he has shown the pragmatism and skill that we need right now. He will be supported by the courageous and capable work of so many American diplomats and aid workers who are serving in Iraq.
Going forward, we can make a difference on several fronts. We will work with the United Nations to support national elections, while helping Iraqis improve local government. We can serve as an honest broker in pursuit of fair and durable agreements on issues that have divided Iraq’s leaders. And just as we will support Iraq’s Security Forces, we will help Iraqi institutions strengthen their capacity to protect the rule of law, confront corruption, and deliver basic services.
Diplomacy and assistance is also required to help the millions of displaced Iraqis. These men, women and children are a living consequence of this war and a challenge to stability in the region, and they must become a part of Iraq’s reconciliation and recovery. America has a strategic interest – and a moral responsibility – to act. In the coming months, my administration will provide more assistance and take steps to increase international support for countries already hosting refugees; we’ll cooperate with others to resettle Iraqis facing great personal risk; and we will work with the Iraqi government over time to resettle refugees and displaced Iraqis within Iraq – because there are few more powerful indicators of lasting peace than displaced citizens returning home.
Now, before I go any further, I want to take a moment to speak directly to the people of Iraq.
You are a great nation, rooted in the cradle of civilization. You are joined together by enduring accomplishments, and a history that connects you as surely as the two rivers carved into your land. In years past, you have persevered through tyranny and terror; through personal insecurity and sectarian violence. And instead of giving in to the forces of disunion, you stepped back from a descent into civil war, and showed a proud resilience that deserves respect.
Our nations have known difficult times together. But ours is a bond forged by shared bloodshed, and countless friendships among our people. We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.
There are those who will try to prevent that future for Iraq – who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing. They represent the forces that destroy nations and lead only to despair, and they will test our will in the months and years to come. America, too, has known these forces. We endured the pain of Civil War, and bitter divisions of region and race. But hostility and hatred are no match for justice; they offer no pathway to peace; and they must not stand between the people of Iraq and a future of reconciliation and hope.
So to the Iraqi people, let me be clear about America’s intentions. The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources. We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country. We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country. And going forward, we can build a lasting relationship founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect as Iraq takes its rightful place in the community of nations.
That leads me to the third part of our strategy –comprehensive American engagement across the region.
The future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader Middle East, so we must work with our friends and partners to establish a new framework that advances Iraq’s security and the region’s. It is time for Iraq to be a full partner in a regional dialogue, and for Iraq’s neighbors to establish productive and normalized relations with Iraq. And going forward, the United States will pursue principled and sustained engagement with all of the nations in the region, and that will include Iran and Syria.
This reflects a fundamental truth: we can no longer deal with regional challenges in isolation – we need a smarter, more sustainable and comprehensive approach. That is why we are renewing our diplomacy, while relieving the burden on our military. That is why we are refocusing on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing a strategy to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world. And that is why we have named three of America’s most accomplished diplomats – George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke – to support Secretary Clinton and me as we carry forward this agenda.
Every nation and every group must know – whether you wish America good or ill – that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East. And that era has just begun.
Finally, I want to be very clear that my strategy for ending the war in Iraq does not end with military plans or diplomatic agendas – it endures through our commitment to uphold our sacred trust with every man and woman who has served in Iraq.
You make up a fraction of the American population, but in an age when so many people and institutions have acted irresponsibly, you did the opposite – you volunteered to bear the heaviest burden. And for you and for your families, the war does not end when you come home. It lives on in memories of your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who gave their lives. It endures in the wound that is slow to heal, the disability that isn’t going away, the dream that wakes you at night, or the stiffening in your spine when a car backfires down the street.
You and your families have done your duty – now a grateful nation must do ours. That is why I am increasing the number of soldiers and Marines, so that we lessen the burden on those who are serving. And that is why I have committed to expanding our system of veterans health care to serve more patients, and to provide better care in more places. We will continue building new wounded warrior facilities across America, and invest in new ways of identifying and treating the signature wounds of this war: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, as well as other combat injuries.
We also know that service does not end with the person wearing the uniform. In her visits with military families across the country, my wife Michelle has learned firsthand about the unique burden that your families endure every day. I want you to know this: military families are a top priority for Michelle and me, and they will be a top priority for my administration. We’ll raise military pay, and continue providing quality child-care, job-training for spouses, and expanded counseling and outreach to families that have known the separation and stress of war. We will also heed the lesson of history – that those who fight in battle can form the backbone of our middle class – by implementing a 21st century GI Bill to help our veterans live their dreams.
As a nation, we have had our share of debates about the war in Iraq. It has, at times, divided us as a people. To this very day, there are some Americans who want to stay in Iraq longer, and some who want to leave faster. But there should be no disagreement on what the men and women of our military have achieved.
And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government – and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.
There are many lessons to be learned from what we’ve experienced. We have learned that America must go to war with clearly defined goals, which is why I’ve ordered a review of our policy in Afghanistan. We have learned that we must always weigh the costs of action, and communicate those costs candidly to the American people, which is why I’ve put Iraq and Afghanistan into my budget. We have learned that in the 21st century, we must use all elements of American power to achieve our objectives, which is why I am committed to building our civilian national security capacity so that the burden is not continually pushed on to our military. We have learned that our political leaders must pursue the broad and bipartisan support that our national security policies depend upon, which is why I will consult with Congress and in carrying out my plans. And we have learned the importance of working closely with friends and allies, which is why we are launching a new era of engagement in the world.
The starting point for our policies must always be the safety of the American people. I know that you – the men and women of the finest fighting force in the history of the world – can meet any challenge, and defeat any foe. And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and provide you with the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That is the most important lesson of all – for the consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. You know because you have seen those sacrifices. You have lived them. And we all honor them.
“Semper Fidelis” – it means always being faithful to Corps, and to country, and to the memory of fallen comrades like Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter. These young men enlisted in a time of war, knowing they would face great danger. They came here, to Camp Lejeune, as they trained for their mission. And last April, they were standing guard in Anbar. In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives. These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck. When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved fifty Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path, but Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter lost their own lives. Jonathan was 21. Jordan was 19.
In the town where Jordan Haerter was from, a bridge was dedicated in his name. One Marine who traveled to the ceremony said: “We flew here from all over the country to pay tribute to our friend Jordan, who risked his life to save us. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
America’s time in Iraq is filled with stories of men and women like this. Their names are written into bridges and town squares. They are etched into stones at Arlington, and in quiet places of rest across our land. They are spoken in schools and on city blocks. They live on in the memories of those who wear your uniform, in the hearts of those they loved, and in the freedom of the nation they served.
Each American who has served in Iraq has their own story. Each of you has your own story. And that story is now a part of the history of the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar. You teach us that the price of freedom is great. Your sacrifice should challenge all of us – every single American – to ask what we can do to be better citizens.
There will be more danger in the months ahead. We will face new tests and unforeseen trials. But thanks to the sacrifices of those who have served, we have forged hard-earned progress, we are leaving Iraq to its people, and we have begun the work of ending this war.
Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America. Semper Fi.