Earlier today, President Obama announced that all US troops except for about 150 attached to the US embassy will leave Iraq by the previously agreed upon deadline of December 31.
This is welcome news. Until this month, the US was in negotiations with the Iraqi government to leave thousands of US troops in the country indefinitely. The snag in the plan was the non-negotiable (from the US perspective) stipulation that US soldiers who remained be granted legal immunity. Apparently, members of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s own coalition could not stomach the demand.
Now that he has been forced to accept an immediate withdrawal, Obama is spinning this as fulfillment of his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq. But Obama won’t be able to claim this particular achievement until he removes all contractors from the country. While the President did not address the issue of contractors in his speech, it is being reported that around 9,500 contractors–including 5,000 security contractors and 4,500 “general life support” contractors–will remain in Iraq after the remaining US troops depart.
So, while the roughly 39,000 US troops left in Iraq are coming home, over 9,000 contractors will remain.
In his speech, Obama also made the claim that US forces are coming home from Afghanistan. And they are–sort of. There are 98,000 troops in Afghanistan, but there is only a plan to remove about 33,000 of them. 10,000 will be leaving shortly, while 23,000 will leave by the end of next summer. But what about the other 65,000? Well, there is no plan yet for removing them.
Furthermore, there are over 90,000 Defense Department contractors currently in Afghanistan. (Note: while not all of these contractors are Americans, they are all employed by US companies.) Where’s the plan for removing them?
US troops are finally leaving Iraq. And that’s really great. But let’s not forget those who remain: the 9,500 contractors in Iraq and the 98,000 troops and 90,000 contractors in Afghanistan. We can say we’re ending the wars when we have a plan for removing everyone–but until then, the fight continues.