By Barbara Starr
The bulk of American troops and military equipment will be out of Iraq by mid-December effectively ending the nine-year battle, according to a US military official familiar with the drawdown plan. The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The U.S. has until the end of the year to withdraw its troops under the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the two countries in 2008. The U.S. had been in discussions to maintain several thousand trainers and advisors in Iraq but the two countries were not able to overcome an impasse about granting American troops immunity and last week President Barack Obama announced that no troops would be staying after 2011.
“They will be gone by the middle of December,” the official said. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit Iraq one more time before the US military effort concludes at the end of the year, although no date for the trip has been announced.
There are currently just under 39,000 troops still in Iraq. Most of them and billions of dollars in military equipment, will leaving by air transport, although some are expected to travel overland to Kuwait. The official emphasized not all those troops may be home in time for Christmas.
The official said a very ‘small number’ of troops will remain attached to the embassy in a security role but in the new year the thousands of contractors and diplomats who remain in Iraq will depend on 5000 private contractors for security.