President Obama announced Friday that all U.S. combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011. The United States is abandoning plans to keep even a small number of U.S. troops in Iraq past the year-end withdrawal deadline.
Last month, I wrote an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal entitled “We’ve Won in Iraq So Let’s Leave” arguing for just this outcome.
What Friday's news means is that the United States can finally declare victory in Iraq and shift precious military resources to higher priority missions (the current designated highest priority mission is Afghanistan/Pakistan). Despite the hopes of many U.S. military commanders to keep a larger U.S. force in Iraq, it appears that the decision to withdraw all forces was based on the Iraqi Parliament’s refusal to grant immunity in Iraqi Courts to U.S. military forces there. This, in effect, is Iraq politely telling us that it’s time to go.
And they would be right. It is time to go. But before we depart, the United States needs to declare victory in Iraq.
It is high time that the American people know and appreciate the security gains and spectacular successes that were achieved in Iraq from 2006-2008 at great cost and personal sacrifice. It is also important that the global jihadist movement confronts and accepts that they were defeated in Iraq.
But there is a distinct tactical disadvantage for U.S. forces when their leaders announce the details and particularly the exact timetable of U.S. withdrawal plans to the world. Those decisions should be made behind closed doors and then executed. There are staggering numbers of armored vehicles, weapons, communications gear and heavy equipment to transport and limited routes out of Iraq. This makes it easier for U.S. forces to be targeted by insurgents as they withdraw through chokepoints, especially in Southern Iraq as they transit toward Kuwait. The announcement of withdrawal seems to play to political purposes and puts U.S. forces at unnecessary risk.
Lastly, the United States needs to prioritize its military efforts. These combat forces are a very precious, limited resource, especially in such a time of severe fiscal austerity. They are most sorely needed in Afghanistan.
Last week, the Obama administration announced that a small number of U.S. troops--Special Operations Forces--would deploy to central Africa to train local security forces and help target the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The dilemma of why the United States is opening up yet another front for its military and why we are limiting those forces to only 100 personnel are questions for separate discussion. Time will only tell if today’s report can be believed, but for the time being it appears that the United States will finally be able to declare victory, withdraw and close the book on Iraq.
Leif Babin is a former Navy SEAL officer who served three tours in Iraq, earning a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.