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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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