Q+A: Questions about Obama's Iraq withdrawal plan
Here are some key questions surrounding President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq over the next 18 months, which he announced on Friday at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
HOW MANY U.S. TROOPS WILL LEAVE AND HOW MANY WILL STAY?
There are currently 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Obama said between 35,000 and 50,000 would remain after August 31, 2010. That means between 92,000 and 107,000 U.S. troops will withdraw over the next 18 months.
HOW QUICKLY WILL THE TROOPS DEPART?
The withdrawal is likely to begin slowly because commanders in Iraq want a large force to remain in place for national elections due this December. It would then accelerate in 2010.
WHAT WILL THE REMAINING TROOPS DO?
The troops will focus on training and supporting Iraqi forces, protecting U.S. diplomats and other civilians, and conducting counter-terrorism operations, officials say.
Although the administration says these forces will not have a "combat mission," a substantial portion will be combat capable. And their tasks, particularly counter-terrorism, raise the prospect they will be involved in some combat.
WHEN WILL THE REMAINING TROOPS LEAVE?
All U.S. forces have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011 under a security pact agreed between Baghdad and Washington late last year. Obama said he intends to respect that deadline.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, suggested the United States should be prepared to maintain a "modest" military presence to assist Iraqi forces beyond 2011 if asked to do so by Iraq's government.
WILL THE WITHDRAWAL LESSEN STRAINS ON U.S. MILITARY?
Not immediately, because the withdrawal is likely to be slow at first and, in the meantime, more U.S. forces will start deploying to Afghanistan. Over time, however, the withdrawal should substantially cut the number of U.S. troops deployed.
WILL IT SAVE MONEY?
Not right away because the costs of removing troops and equipment from Iraq will be substantial. But the Obama administration sees troop cuts in Iraq as one way to reduce the federal deficit and should reap savings over time.
Obama this week estimated he would need $130 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1. The war costs for this fiscal year are estimated at $141.4 billion. But exact comparisons are difficult because Obama has pledged to include more war costs in the Pentagon's regular budget.