The Washington Post reports that Operation Iraqi Freedom, the battle front that opened in 2003, has now ended. The last combat troops have left Iraq, leaving behind some 50,000 troops who will serve primarily as trainers for Iraqi forces. They also leave behind, of course, a country that is vastly different from the Iraq of 2003. How well that country fares will be in the hands of Iraqi citizens who still have quite a ways to go in resolving their internal differences.
Lt. Col. Mark Bieger huddled his infantrymen in a darkened parking lot minutes before they were to depart Baghdad for the last time.
“This is a historic mission!” he bellowed, struggling to be heard over the zoom of fighter jets and unmanned drones deployed to watch over the brigade’s convoy to Kuwait. “A truly historic end to seven years of war.”
The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country, fulfilling the Obama administration’s pledge to end the U.S. combat mission by the end of August. About 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, mainly as a training force.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.
“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.
Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.