President Obama outlined on Friday his plan to withdraw American combat forces from Iraq by August 2010, promising to dramatically scale back one of the nation's longest and costliest military efforts.
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: By Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," Obama told U.S. Marines in a speech at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
However, as many as 50,000 troops will remain until the end of 2011 to support "the Iraqi government and its security forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country," he said.
The 19-month drawdown would be a move toward honoring a promise Obama made during his campaign. Initially, he set a 16-month timetable after taking office, but he later pledged "to consult closely" with military commanders to come up with a schedule.
Some 4,250 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the conflict since former President Bush ordered the invasion of the country in March 2003.
"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," Obama said.
He thanked troops for their effort and acknowledged their sacrifice.
"By any measure, this has already been a long war," he said. "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."
"Under tough circumstances, the men and women of the United States military have served with honor and succeeded beyond any expectation," he said.
"Al-Qaida in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq's security forces, and through our partnership with Sunni Arabs," Obama said. "The capacity of Iraq's security forces has improved, and Iraq's leaders have taken steps toward political accommodation."
Obama's call got a boost from an unexpected source, as his former presidential campaign rival, Sen. John McCain, endorsed the timetable.
"Overall it is a reasonable plan and one that can work, and I support it," McCain told the Reuters news agency.
On the campaign trail, McCain had criticized Obama for his 16-month-withdrawal pledge.
Asked about those remarks and his position today, McCain said: "Let me just remind you again, this is dramatically different, this is significantly different, this plan compared to his campaign pledge."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an MSNBC interview Wednesday, said she wanted to hear the president's justification for keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq.
With material from The Associated Press