Iraq: Troops soldier on after last combat brigade leaves

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There was a sigh of relief at the Pentagon Wednesday as the U.S. Army’s final combat brigade crossed from Iraq into Kuwait. Generals and their staffs have spent nearly a decade juggling soldiers to meet the needs of two wars, bruising many of the units and stretching the Army nearly to the breaking point in the process. Military experts agree that reducing troop strength in Iraq will ease the strain on the force, although it could allow tensions inside Iraq to flare. But the campaign’s sunk costs — more than 4,400 U.S. troops dead, 30,000 wounded (and far higher Iraqi casualties), along with a price tag that amounts to $2,500 for every person in America — is far higher than anyone expected when Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003.

But it’s not quite over yet. Just what will those 50,000 U.S. troops staying behind in Iraq be up to if not fighting? And what will fill the gap they’ve left? Nearly all of them are slated to stay in Iraq until they are required by a U.S.-Iraqi agreement to leave by Jan. 1, 2012. The U.S. troops have four missions, broadly defined as “stability operations”:

1. Training Iraq’s security forces, now 660,000 strong.

2. Providing intelligence, aircraft and other assets to support Iraq’s counterterror campaign.

3. Protecting U.S. and allied civilian agencies as they continue to try to rebuild a shattered country that is still trying to put together a government five months after an election.

4. Preparing to come home.

Full Story: Iraq: Troops Soldier On After Last Combat Brigade Leaves – TIME