President Barack Obama says the United States is on track to end its combat mission in Iraq by the end of this month, transitioning from a military to a civilian-led effort. In a speech to the Disabled Veterans of America in Atlanta, Georgia, the president praised the sacrifices of American forces in Iraq, and also underscored his commitment to defeating al-Qaida and extremists forces in Afghanistan.
Though Iraq is now grappling with political uncertainty five months after a parliamentary election, and with bomb attacks in Baghdad and other cities, the president and others in his administration are highlighting the coming formal end of the U.S. combat mission.
Middle East expert Charles Dunne discusses the changing U.S. role in Iraq:
In his speech Mr. Obama said the United States is on schedule to fulfill a pledge to transfer security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.
"Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility," he said. "And I made it clear that by August 31, 2010 America's combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised, on schedule."
The president said 90,000 troops will have come home from Iraq by the end of August. He noted the United States is in the process of moving millions of pieces of equipment from Iraq, and continues to close or turn over military bases to Iraqi government troops.
The U.S. presence, Mr. Obama said, will shift from military to civilian leadership, with a focused mission of training Iraqi forces, counter-terrorism operations, and protecting U.S. civilian and diplomatic personnel.
While violence in Iraq continues to be at its lowest level in years, the president made a reference to problems, saying terrorists continue to try to derail progress. He spoke about challenges facing Iraqi forces and American troops in their new mission.
"These are dangerous tasks," he said. "There are still those with bombs and bullets who will try to stop Iraq's progress, and the hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq."
Political tensions have heightened in Iraq because its newly-elected parliament is still deadlocked over a choice for a new prime minister and government, nearly five months after the parliamentary election in March.
President Obama also talked about Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces face a strengthened insurgency and a rising casualty count, July being the deadliest month ever for U.S. troops there.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the president said, the United States is determined to defeat al-Qaida and extremist forces.
"In this region, and beyond, we will tolerate no safe haven for al-Qaida and their extremist allies, we will disrupt and we will dismantle, and we will ultimately defeat al-Qaida," he said.
The president devoted a large portion of his speech to assuring military veterans that his administration is committed to helping them receive the medical care and assistance they require.
Referring to what he called vigorous debates in the U.S. about the war in Iraq, Mr. Obama said there were no differences when it came to the need to support more than one million Americans who served in Iraq.