The President will announce his plan to "responsibly end the war in Iraq" at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina today, a senior administration source told reporters — including ABC News’ Luis Martinez — last night.
"The President has put together a plan that will responsibly redeploy our troops," said the official.
As a candidate, Mr. Obama promised to withdraw all US combat troops within 16 monts of taking office. This plan doesn’t quite meet that goal; officials expect the current force of 142,000 troops in Iraq being drawn down within 19 months to a force remaining US force of between 35,000-50,000.
"The point here is the President is living up to a commitment he’d made," the official said, "but he is doing so in a way that enjoys the support of the interagency. Most importantly, at the end of the day, it is not a political calculation, but a calculation that is designed and at the end of the day will advance US national security interests."
No doubt having learned a lesson from former President Bush’s "Mission Accomplished" debacle, the administration said in no way will the president today declare the war over.
"Let there be no doubt this is a war today in Iraq…. What the President will outline tomorrow is what he has been talking about for years, which is the plan to end the war in Iraq," said an official.
"Our combat mission in Iraq will end…. After this will be a much narrower mission."
The President will announce an 18 month drawdown plan starting today that will result in the combat mission in Iraq ending on August 31, 2010. Between 35,000-50,000 troops will remain because military commanders advised they would be needed to conduct new missions:
1. Training,equipping and advising the Iraqi Security Forces;
2. Supporting Iraqi Civilian governance operations; and
3. Providing a force to conduct specifically targeted counter-terrorism missions.
The remaining forces will be reconstituted into "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" not Combat Brigades. The specific counterterrorism force will make up a very small percentage of the remaining troops. Of course, they will have the right to self-defense, but they will not be tasked with providing security to specific areas of the country as they do now.
As of last night President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have not had a phone call to discuss the president’s decision, though the US and Iraqi governments have consulted about this issue. They tried earlier today, "but the schedules were not mutually convenient." The hope was to have them talk to each other this morning before President’s speech.
The officials describe a "very rigorous process" that began with President Obama’s meeting on January 21 with Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mullen and had significant input from top military commanders. The President made his final decision yesterday at a National Security Countil meeting.
Much of the decision-making process, aides said, took into account the risk factors involved in terms of maintaining the gains made in security and other areas. The timeline looks at the calendar and the various risks in force size at various points such as the various Iraqi elections that are scheduled for this year.
One official noted there are a series of important events this year — regional elections during the summer, a national election at the end of the year — prompting military commanders to argue that "they wanted increased flexibility around those point and I think that’s the set of considerations that drive this."
– Jake Tapper and Luis Martinez