A definitive departure of American forces from Iraq has started at Al Assad US military airbase, the biggest in the country. Some 40,000 troops are ticketed to be on home soil by January.
Nick Laiola, after two tours of duty in Iraq, was among the first told to pack his bags. Laiola said: “I was really happy with the experience I got. I got to work with a lot of diverse and interesting people and I had a really good time with my team. I got to actually come to my first deployment with a lot of my close friends.”
At the height of involvement the US had 176,000 troops in Iraq. Some 4,400 US military personnel have lost their lives in the war there, and tens of thousands of Iraqis. The number of US wounded is around 32,000.
This is the biggest handover operation today’s US military has organised, transferring dozens of bases into Iraqi control and shipping out vehicles and material on a vast scale. Americans who have served here since Washington ordered the March 2003 invasion may have their doubts about how secure Iraq will be after they leave.
Two-tour Jasamin Serret felt she had accomplished her mission: “My most important accomplishment of leaving Iraq is the change that I have seen since my first deployment here. It’s good to know that I’m part of history, and it’s good to know that I’m leaving Iraq a more stable country.”
On October 21, President Obama delivered on a campaign pledge and a commitment made to the Iraqis by his predecessor in 2008, confirming that “the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of [this] year”.
Some forces were brought back in August.