The United States' eight-year military operation of Iraq is coming to an end. Military commanders in Iraq say the withdrawal of troops and equipment from the country is nearly complete. Fewer than 4,000 remain in the country and officials say they will likely be out in the next few days, in keeping with President Obama's orders for a pullout by the Christmas holiday.
Another convoy reaches Kuwait. For the U.S. Air Force and Army combat truckers who have been on the road for days, the trip is exhausting and dangerous. On the way out, the trucks face gunfire and rock-throwing.
For soldiers like 21-year-old Johan Robinson, the departure is part of history. “We accomplished safety for our own people over here during our operations, and safety for others from terrorism," he said.
A Look at Key Events in US-Iraq Invasion
- March 20, 2003: US forces invade Iraq.
- April 9, 2003: US forces pour into Baghdad.
- May 1, 2003: President George Bush says major combat operations are over in Iraq.
- December 13, 2003: Saddam Hussein is captured near his hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
- December 30, 2006: Saddam Hussein is executed.
- January 10, 2007: President Bush announces a surge of more than 21,000 troops to combat growing violence.
- July 22, 2008: Troop surge ends, leaving about 147,000 US troops in Iraq.
- November 27, 2008: Iraqi parliament approves US-Iraq security agreement which sets a date of December 31, 2011, for all US forces to leave Iraq.
- February 27, 2009: President Barack Obama says all but 50,000 troops will withdraw by August 31, 2010.
- August 31, 2010: President Obama announces end of US combat mission in Iraq. About 50,000 troops remain to train and advise Iraqi forces.
- December 21, 2010: After nine months of delays, Iraq approves a new government.
- August 02, 2011: Iraqi political leaders agree to negotiate a possible deal that would allow some US troops to remain after December on a training mission.
- August 15 2011: Bombings and attacks in 17 Iraqi cities leave more than 60 people dead, raising concerns about security after the US pullout.
- September 1, 2011: The US military says no American service members died in Iraq in August, the first month with no US military fatalities there.
- October 21, 2011: President Obama confirms all US troops with be withdrawn by the end of the year.
- November 29, 2011: US Vice President Joe Biden tells Iraqi leaders the two countries are embarking on a "new path" as the US nears completion of its withdrawal.
The drawdown has been under way for months, but in recent days movement has accelerated at U.S. bases in Kuwait that serve as transit points. The goal - to fulfill President Obama's promise to have the troops home by the Christmas holiday.
What took eight years to put into place is being dismantled in weeks.
One of the generals overseeing the drawdown, Army Brigadier General Jonathan Ives, calls it the biggest trucking operation since the World War II mission that supplied U.S. troops invading Europe.
“We’ve moved a million tons with 4,000 vehicles in the same amount of time [as the World War II operation]. They did it over 90 days, a three-month period. We’ve done it really from October 16 to today," he said.
Most camps in Iraq have been emptied or handed over to Iraqi authorities, a process that began in the north, making its way south.
U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Curt Stewart has deployed several times since the war started in 2003. “I almost feel like I've spent more time here than I have in the States over the last six or seven years. So, it's definitely historic in terms of finally bringing things to a close and closing bases that I've traveled to and from numerous times over the last several years. Seeing them close and bringing things home feels pretty good," he said.
Specialist Robinson says his deployments have caused his family suffering and he hopes the sacrifices that U.S. soldiers have made will mean a safer world. He also hopes that no others will have to fight in Iraq again.
“A lot of blood has been shed in this country. Now that we're going to be gone, I know that neither me nor my family nor my friends are going to [have] to come back here to this country and do more damage. It's actually a relief," he said.
For the troops returning home and the families of the more than 4,000 Americans who perished in this war, this journey out of Iraq is the end of a chapter.