WASHINGTON (WWJ/AP) – President Obama announced Friday that the United States will withdraw nearly all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, effectively bringing the long and polarizing war in Iraq to an end.
“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Obama said.
He said the last American troops will depart the country by January 1 “with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.”
“Our troops are finally coming home,” he added, saying in the White House briefing room that U.S. troops “will definitely be home for the holidays.”
In Michigan, there is no doubt this holiday season will be like none other for the families of service people who will have their loved ones home.
WWJ’s Marie Osborne spoke with Michigan National Guard spokesman Captain Aaron Jenkins, who said Iraq operations for the Michigan Guard have been winding down for some time.
“We do have a few soldiers that are in Iraq right now, less than 10 actually, and that’s a result of our shrinking presence there,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins himself served a tour in Iraq last year as a press information officer for the region.
“There’s no better feeling than being home. There’s a lot of burdens and a lot of pressure on the Michigan National Guard and the military in general,” he said. “It feels good to be home and to have that satisfaction of a mission well done.”
The war in Iraq has meant the death of more than 4,400 U.S. troops and come at a cost of more than $1 trillion. Asked in a briefing following Obama’s remarks if it was worth it, Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, said, “history is going to have to judge.”
Skip Bushart of Waterford lost his 22-year-old son Damian, who was killed when a tank collided with his vehicle in Iraq in 2003.
Bushart said although he’s happy there’s an end in sight, he said people with loved ones still in the war are not yet worry-free.
“Of course, anytime you have a child in a combat zone like that there’s always apprehension, but knowing that there is a deadline, you know, it make it all that much harder,” he said. “You don’t want your kids … to take any unnecessary chances or anything, knowing that there is a drawn-down date that they will be home.”
“As long as those kids are over there … and I say kids, but I refer to … the troops that are over there, anytime that they’re in that kind of a situation when you’re in peril like that, worry is never eleviated,” Bushart said.
Bushart said the war’s end is overdue and he wishes it had come earlier.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have spent months debating whether to honor a planned December 31 deadline for troop withdrawal, set in 2008, amid concerns that the full withdrawal of U.S. forces could put the country at risk. Many U.S. officials wanted to leave a few thousand military trainers in the country past the end of the year, but, as the Associated Press reported Sunday, “Iraqi leaders have adamantly refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans have refused to stay without it.”
America has already withdrawn nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq already as part of the current draw-down; about 40,000 “non-combat” troops remain. Obama said Friday that “Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country’s security” and said that the relationship between the United States and Iraq going forward will be one of equals.
“It will be a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” the President said.
The Associated Press contributed to this support.