Obama Announces Troop Pullout By August 2010

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President Obama announced the pullout of combat troops from Iraq Friday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He spoke to an audience of some 2,000 Marines— for whom the reduction in Iraq will instead mean more time in Afghanistan.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

President Obama made his announcement of that pullout of combat troops at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina yesterday, speaking to an audience of some 2,000 Marines for whom the drawdown in Iraq will instead mean more time in Afghanistan. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: As a candidate, it was his opposition to the Iraq War that helped propel Mr. Obama to the Democratic nomination. Yesterday, he stood before a field house full of Marines at Camp Lejeune as their commander-in-chief.

President BARACK OBAMA: Good morning, Marines.

(Soundbite of Marines responding)

GONYEA: This was not a rally, it was a policy speech. The president noted that next month will mark the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War.

President OBAMA: By any measure, this has already been a long war.

GONYEA: But he said violence in Iraq is down.

President OBAMA: 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. The capacity of Iraq's security forces has improved, and Iraq's leaders have taken steps towards political accommodation.

GONYEA: And that's what makes the troop withdrawal possible. Still, as many as 50,000 U.S. forces will remain in place, though the president says the goal is to pull them out in just under three years from now. Mr. Obama also spoke of the reemergence of al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and said that is where U.S. forces are now needed.

The president was warmly received by these Marines and the families who watched from the second tier of the field house. The speech was not built around applause lines. Mr. Obama's words have a direct impact on those in the audience.

Afterward, Camp Lejeune public affairs officers escorted a couple dozen Marines out to a tent in the parking lot for interviews with the media. They were told to express their opinions freely. They were positive about their new commander-in-chief. None offered any criticism. There was support for the shift to Afghanistan.

Twenty-two-year-old Navy Corpsman Ryan Juncan(ph) had this matter-of-fact assessment of things.

Mr. RYAN JUNCAN (U.S. Navy): I think the tempo's pretty good right now. We're pretty excited about going to Afghanistan. There's a lot of business for us there. So pretty much what I expected, and it's good.

GONYEA: And there was appreciation that the president had come to this base to bring them this news in person.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

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Obama Pledges To End Iraq Combat Ops In 2010

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

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