Obama: War in Iraq to end as promised

Barack Obama says US effort in Iraq to switch from troops to diplomats as timetable for military withdrawal is on track. In his speech yesterday he proclaimed that the seven-year conflict costing US taxpayers around $700bn and the lives of more than 4,000 American troops was coming to an end as a military operation “as promised, on schedule”, fulfilling his pledge as a presidential candidate to bring the conflict in Iraq to a “responsible end”.

He was careful to sidestep Bush’s mistake to claim victory prematurely by also warned that “the hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq”.

The White House has released the full text of Obama’s speech. Here are the key passages dealing with US strategy in Iraq:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by 31 August 2010 America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing – as promised, on schedule.

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases.

We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office – more than 90,000.

Today – even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress – because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years. And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces. In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

As agreed to with the Iraqi government, we will maintain a transitional force until we remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of next year. During this period, our forces will have a focused mission – supporting and training Iraqi forces, partnering with Iraqis in counter-terrorism missions, and protecting our civilian and military efforts. These are dangerous tasks. And there are still those with bombs and bullets who will try to stop Iraq’s progress. The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq.

But make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing – from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats. And as we mark the end of America’s combat mission in Iraq, a grateful America must pay tribute to all who served there.

Here are the key extracts dealing with Afghanistan:

Let us never forget – it was Afghanistan where al-Qaida plotted and trained to murder 3,000 innocent people on 9/11. It is Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan where terrorists have launched other attacks against us and our allies. And if Afghanistan were to be engulfed by an even wide insurgency, al-Qaida and its terrorist affiliates would have even more space to plan their next attack. And as president of the United States, I refuse to let that happen.

That is why, after years in which the situation had deteriorated in Afghanistan, I announced a new strategy last December – a military effort to break the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan forces so they can take the lead for security; a civilian effort to promote good governance and development that improves the lives of the Afghan people; and deeper cooperation with Pakistan to root out terrorists on both sides of the border.

We face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we’re focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we’re going on the offensive against the Taliban – targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they’d had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces.

And today our thoughts are prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

On the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability, and the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development; to combat corruption; and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.