WASHINGTON - Combat brigades deployed in Iraq will be removed over the next 18 months, U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," Obama told the applauding audience.
The top priority during the drawdown will be the safety and security of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, he said.
"We will proceed carefully and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government," Obama said.
America's enemies shouldn't rejoice about the pullout plan, Obama warned.
"(This) plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners and to succeed," he said.
Once the combat brigades exit, "our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its security forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country," he said.
The United States will maintain a transitional force of between 35,000 to 50,000 troops for "training, equipping and advising Iraqi security forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq," he said.
Obama said all U.S. forces would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011 in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government.
"We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility," the president said, "and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned."
Speaking directly to the Iraqi citizens, Obama said, "The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources. We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country. We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country."
Looking ahead, Obama said, "(We) can build a lasting relationship founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect as Iraq takes its rightful place in the community of nations."
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