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'Last' U.S. 'Combat' Troops Exit Iraq

U.S. soldier waves leaving Iraq

A U.S. soldier waves from his Stryker armored vehicle after crossing the border from Iraq into Kuwait Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010.  Maya Alleruzzo/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Maya Alleruzzo/AP

NBC News, the Associated Press and CNN, among other news outlets, are reporting that the last U.S. combat troops were leaving Iraq Wednesday evening with the rolling into Kuwait of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash.

But as we at NPR and others have reported previously, going forward there will still be U.S. combat troops in Iraq and they will sometimes find themselves shooting at the enemy and being shot at.

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That would qualify as combat by most definitions.

So how is it possible to report that the last combat troops are leaving Iraq when there will still be combat troops there?

Take this "last combat troops" news with a grain of salt. It's semantics.

The departing 4th Stryker Brigade had a specific combat mission, for instance, make contact with the enemy and destroy it.

But most of the 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq will still be trained combat troops. Their ostensible missions will be the training of Iraqis, force protection, counterterrorism etc.

If they are attacked, however, rest assured there will be combat. Indeed, insurgents may very well attack remaining U.S. troops to demonstrate that Iraq is far from stable and that progress is elusive.

While they won't be doing the sort of pure American combat patrols of a few years ago, U.S. troops will be patrolling with Iraqis as part of training missions.

And U.S. troops will likely, and unfortunately, still be targeted by insurgents using IEDs as the Americans travel Iraq's roads.

There are at least two big reasons the Obama Administration and military are pushing hard the line about the the last combat troops coming out Wednesday.

The main one is that President Barack Obama wants to redeem his campaign pledge to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, which he has defined as the bad war, and and to redeploy them to Afghanistan, the good war, in his estimation.

In February, the president set the end of August for having most if not all combat troops out of Iraq.

Also, during the Bush presidency, the Iraqis and U.S. signed a status of forces agreement or SOFA which called for a withdrawal of U.S. forces. (The Congressional Research Service has a useful report with background on the SOFA.)

Under the agreement, all U.S. combat forces were to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities and villages to U.S. bases in the country by the end of June 2009.

All U.S. troops are to be withdrawn completely by December 2011.

Wednesday's troop movement provides momentum towards that goal.

But, again, the main reason for the "last combat troops" coming out is to meet Obama's deadline.

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