American troops will have all withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the month, ending the Iraqi campaign, code-named Operation Iraqi Freedom, that began in March 2003.
Lasting over eight years and costing the nation approximately 4,404 Americans killed, 32,000 wounded and billions of dollars, it was conducted for a noble cause even if its execution at certain times, like all armed conflicts, was problematic.
While there are clearly several places in the world today where we have American forces based, and which the reason and cost of keeping them there can no longer be justified, Iraq is not one of them.
We painfully endured mishaps, mistakes and a tenacious enemy to save Iraq from a brutal dictator and an insurgency aided by radical Islamists committed to the destruction of western democracy.
We sought the establishment of a democratic Iraqi republic friendly to the West and provide a balance of power in a very volatile region. The United States has almost accomplished this mission, but work still remains.
Thus it was a sad commentary when President Obama opted to pull all our troops out to simply satisfy a campaign promise to the American left, rather than negotiate a small U.S. troop presence to complete the training of Iraqi security forces.
Where do we go from here? We remain focused on the fight in the Afghanistan campaign, and we stay engaged with Iraq.
The looming danger Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose for us will make our continued presence in the region a necessity for U.S. national security, and our continued engagement with Iraq’s security forces will contribute only to our own security and that of the region.
But on the occasion of this troop withdrawal, it’s fitting that we pay tribute to the estimated 1 million American service members who served in the Iraq campaign during 2003-2011. Drawn from all five of our armed services, and from both the active and reserve components, these men and women deserve our heartfelt thanks – they have done us proud!
Allen Weh is a retired colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2003-04 he was recalled from the retired list to serve in Iraq and given a key leadership role with the creation and organization of the new Iraqi Army.