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Last US combat troops leave Iraq


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Last US combat troops leave Iraq

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IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER – The last United States combat troops crossed the border into Kuwait this morning, bringing to a close the active combat phase of a seven-year war that overthrew the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein. It forever defined the presidency of George W. Bush and left more than 4 400 American service members and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.The final convoy of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Washington, began entering Kuwait about 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), carrying the last of the 14 000 United States combat forces in Iraq, said NBC’s Richard Engel, who has been travelling with the brigade as it moved out this week.NBC News video showed the last Stryker vehicles rolling up to the gate. A guard pulled it back, and the vehicles drove through. The gate closed behind them.P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department, told msnbc TV that while the departure was “an historic moment”, it was not the end of the United States mission in Iraq.“We are ending the war . . . but we are not ending our work in Iraq,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to Iraq.”The White House website first trumpeted the End Of Combat In Iraq before backtracking to note that the official end of combat operations was August 31.  Still, and as the last soldiers reached Kuwait after midnight, they said they were proud of their effort.“We are done with operations,” Lieutenant Steven DeWitt of San Jose, California, said as his vehicle reached Khabari Crossing on the border.“This was a professional soldier’s job,” he said, describing “a war that has defined this generation of military men and women”.Brigadier General Nick Tooliatos, deputy commanding general for First Theatre Sustainment Command in Kuwait, stood at the border saluting each soldier as he or she crossed.“I couldn’t have asked for a better honour than to greet some soldiers who have done great work for a year fighting our nation’s war, and to just be here and render honours to them and welcome them and thank them for a job well done,” Tooliatos said.“It’s a historic event,” he said.Closely held secretThe timing of the final departure was a closely held secret, and the end came in dramatic fashion two weeks ahead of the August 31 deadline President Barack Obama had set to withdraw combat forces and close Operation Iraqi Freedom, which the United States-led multinational coalition began March 20, 2003, in the belief that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened the West.In a statement, Obama called the troops’ withdrawal a “milestone in the Iraq war” and said, “I hope you’ll join me in thanking them, and all of our troops and military families, for their service.”At one point, the United States had blanketed the country with nearly a quarter-million-strong combat force. Obama said about 50 000 troops would remain in the country in a non-combat role providing support and training for the Iraqi military. (MSNBC)

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