MSNBC is reporting live, with Richard Engel embedded with troops (a Stryker Brigade) leaving Iraq and heading south to Kuwait.
The specific plans for troop exit were secret until now.
The troops are combat troops and obviously are armed. Engle is reporting that they have no targets on their way out, but will return fire if they are attacked.
MSNBC is reporting that by early tomorrow morning they will have left Iraq.Engel said this because when this operation started, it was late at night in Iraq, and he expected to cross in the early morning hours (Iraq time, 7 hrs ahead of Eastern time.) The convoy is crossing the border now. Engel's unit crossed at about 7:20.
Even though 50K Americans remain in Iraq, it feels good to see this happening. We've been waiting a long time for this day.
Note on "Update 8": It seems that technically, there are still about 6K combat troops in Iraq who will leave by August 31. It was discussed on MSNBC and in news articles. It seems more accurate to say that tonight the last full brigade left. Because of that, I changed the word "Troops" to "Brigade" in the diary title. There's more information about this under the "Update 8" heading below.
Rachel Maddow is in Bagdad, reporting from what was formerly known as the Green Zone. Rachel is saying that NBC/MSNBC have exclusive coverage. She said that she maintained operational secrecy about the fact that she was going to Baghdad. Not even her staff knew where she was. Obviously NBC personnel kept secret the troop exit plans that they were aware of too.
MSNBC is going to be broadcasting live, apparently preempting the scheduled shows, or integrating the live coverage from Iraq into the shows.
Engel says they are about 20 miles from the Kuwait border.
I will update as things develop.
Updates from MSNBC Reporting:
Iraq time zone is 7 hours ahead of Eastern time zone, so they are in the early morning hours right now and have been driving through the night.
Engel reports that NBC has been planning this for about a month.
Troops decided to "jump the gun" and leave tonight, earlier than scheduled. There have been no logistical problems getting the troops out.
Looks like MSNBC has all or most of their evening anchors on board for this reporting: Olbermann, Matthews, O'Donnell in the US and Engel and Maddow in Iraq.
From the News Wire:
U.S. ending combat operations in Iraq
After 7½ years, last convoy of fighting forces leaving country
NEAR THE IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER — The last U.S. combat troops were crossing the border into Kuwait on Thursday morning, bringing to a close the active combat phase of a 7½-year war that overthrew the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, forever defined the presidency of George W. Bush and left more than 4,400 American service members and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.
The final convoy of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., was about to enter Kuwait shortly after 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), carrying the last of the 14,000 U.S. combat forces in Iraq, said NBC’s Richard Engel, who has been traveling with the brigade as it moved out this week.
Engel is reporting that his vehicle is about 2 miles from the Kuwait border. His vehicle is not the last vehicle in the convoy. Estimated time of border crossing is about 7:25pm Eastern time, and he estimates that it will take about an hour after that for all vehicles to cross. When Engel and his crew cross, they plan to stop and turn the camera back to Iraq and the remaining vehicles crossing, so if you are watching, this should be an important moment. Be sure to be tuned in by 7:20 at the latest so you can see it.
Engel is now reporting that the first part of the convoy is already over the border and that there are American troops and officers at the border greeting them and thanking them for their service. Kuwaiti officials are also waiting at the border.
Goodbye Iraq: Last US combat brigade heads home
KHABARI CROSSING, Kuwait — As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.
For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. Seven years and five months after the U.S.-led invasion, the last American combat brigade was leaving Iraq, well ahead of President Barack Obama's Aug. 31 deadline for ending U.S. combat operations there.
Crossing the border
Engel's unit is at the border. Soldiers are unloading their weapons. This is an official border crossing so there are still formalities, preparing papers, etc. There are bright lights, soldiers waving, video cameras, journalists (but "not a throng" as Engel reports.) A relatively small reception. Engel says he thought there would be more formalities and paperwork. The Lieutenant in the unit he's embedded with, Lt. DeWitt, says they have crossed the border and that it feels great.
More from the news wires:
Final U.S. combat brigade pulls out of Iraq
Lt. Col. Mark Beiger huddled his infantrymen in a darkened parking lot minutes before they were to depart Baghdad for the last time.
"This is a historic mission!" he bellowed, struggling to be heard over the zoom of fighter jets and unmanned drones deployed to watch over the brigade's convoy to Kuwait. "A truly historic end to seven years of war."
By the end of this month, the United States will have six brigades in Iraq, by far its smallest footprint since the 2003 invasion. Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded "advise and assist brigades." The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 U.S. special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops. Under a bilateral agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.
US ends combat operations in Iraq
The last brigade of US combat has been withdrawn from Iraq, bringing combat operation to an end in a war that has lasted more than seven years and claimed the lives of more than 4,000 US troops.
Over the course the week soldiers from the 4th Stryker brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, have driven hundreds of vehicles from Camp Victory near Baghdad airport to Camp Virginia in Kuwait.
Obama had made ending the Iraq war a central policy of his presidential campaign, and after taking office he immediately announced plans to bring combat troops home by the end of August this year.
He inherited around 144,000 troops in Iraq, 30,000 fewer than the peak levels of 2007, when the Bush administration ordered a soc-called surge in an effort to improve Iraq's atrocious security situation.
Last brigade of combat troops drives out of Iraq
"The Last Patrol," elements of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, left Baghdad before daybreak Wednesday, drove to the border protected by F-16 fighters above and on the ground by an Iraqi army they helped build and some of the 50,000 U.S. troops who remain in the country until the end of 2011 to train Iraqi forces.
They leave behind an uncertain Iraq battered by war, divided and bloodied by sectarian strife and still struggling to form a government months after its second democratic postwar election. They will return to the United States uneasy with the legacy of the war that left more than 4,000 American troops dead and cost more than $748 billion to fight.
Thursday’s final withdrawal began before dawn Sunday when nearly 2,000 4th Stryker Brigade soldiers were divided into four huge convoys of some 300 Strykers to head south from Baghdad. For four nights, each group loaded up the gear, music, laptops and guns they wanted and needed within reach for their last days in Iraq. They also carried extra diesel and belts of .50-caliber ammunition. The troops also loaded up on beef jerky, powdered Gatorade, case of water and Rip Its – the basics of a soldier’s diet in this seven-year war.
Stars and Stripes
Keith Olbermann is reporting that the convoy left Iraq without incident.
Rachel is reporting that the officer in Baghdad ordered them to be aware of the risk of an attack/explosion, and that if it happens, no excuses, immediately hit the deck or seek shelter. She has spent some time with Iraqi police and says that is the last job she would want right now.
Various NBC/MSNBC reporters are saying that this is a very dangerous time in Iraq because of the US withdrawal and the fact that it's Ramadan.
Various reporters have also been discussing what the impact of this withdrawal will be on the Iraqi government who have only met for 18 minutes so far, and who are still having trouble coming together to govern.
All US 'Combat' troops have now left Iraq
It's been seven years, three months and 16 days since May 2, 2003. That's when George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. That was a lie -- just like every reason Bush gave for the war itself.
Some interesting messages from Twitter:
50,000 troops, untold tens of thousands of contractors/mercenaries & the new State Department army all in Iraq does NOT sound like "leaving"
bmaz Wed 18 Aug 19:57
The goal was political stability, govt stability and a working infrastructure; Iraq is not even close. And we are not "leaving". Is a joke.
bmaz Wed 18 Aug 20:01
Breathless coverage of last "combat" troops exit like during invasion? Thousands of troops, contractors, officials, giant embassy remain.
GregMitch Wed 18 Aug 19:26
U.S. semi-pullout. RT @brianstelter What's happening tonight largely symbolic, remaining combat troops simply reclassified as trainers.
GregMitch Wed 18 Aug 18:42
Did I miss in TV coverage tonite footage of U.S. troops taking all of those Iraqi WMDs we found with them?
GregMitch Wed Aug 18 19:32
Dexter Filkins, NYT, May 2, 2003, opened story: "The war in Iraq has officially ended."
GregMitch Wed Aug 18 19:35
Waiting for Baghdad Bob to announce: "We have driven the American troops out! Victory is ours!"
GregMitch Wed 18 Aug 19:53
As footage of combat troops leaving Iraq rolled on the TV screen, I was reminded of the day it all began. Tears. Sadness. Explosions. Fear.
ladyspeaker Wed 18 Aug 20:14
I'm watching coverage of troops pulling out of Iraq. What exactly was the point of that war?
JoyVBehar Wed 18 Aug 19:25
I guess we know removal of troops from Iraq actually is a big deal for Obama & the nation since Fox News is ignoring it completely
steveweinstein Wed 18 Aug
MSNBC & CNN reporting on Iraq troop withdrawal. FOX covering faux Park51 nontraversy. #RupertDropsAllPretense
ndecenzo Wed 18 Aug 20:22
A Quote From Rachel Maddow (courtesy of NWTerriD in the comments)
The terms on which we are leaving are politically negotiated terms. The Status of Forces agreement was signed by George W. Bush and by the Malachi government. That was about when all US troops leave, next year, and when US forces pulled out of the cities, an incredibly important deadline that happened last summer.
This date, this month, this was picked by Barack Obama. It is political. All of the lip service that's paid by American politicians, pounding their chests and talking about "conditions on the ground being dictatorial," it's chest pounding. It's political rhetoric. US troops leave on a US political timeline and that's negotiated because we have civilian control of our military in this country, and it's one of the things that makes America America.
An Item about Permanent Bases in Iraq, from Politifact from Dec 2009 (courtesy of marabout in the comments)
Defense Authorization Act puts it in writing
Updated: Monday, December 7th, 2009 | By Robert Farley
In a speech at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Feb. 27, 2009, President Barack Obama pledged to end the combat mission in Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010. And speaking more directly to the issue of permanent bases, he said, "I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011."
The administration's position was reinforced by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a Sept. 4, 2009, interview when he was asked by an Al Jazeera reporter whether the Obama administration would stick to its pledge not to build any permanent military bases in Iraq.
"Absolutely," Gates said. "Unless there is some new agreement or some new negotiation, which would clearly be on Iraqi terms. But we will not have any permanent bases in Iraq. We have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq. And we are now planning on withdrawing all American military forces by the end of 2011."
Lastly, it was a position clearly written into the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 passed by Congress and signed by President Obama on Oct. 28, 2009. Section 1221 states, "No funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act may be obligated or expended ... to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq."
It's a provision that has been included in defense authorization legislation for several years in a row, dating back to the Bush administration.
Promises kept can always be broken in the future, and we'll revisit this one if things change -- particularly as we move closer toward the deadlines for troop removal -- but the Obama administration has not wavered from its pledge and the president signed a bill that specifically prohibits defense funds from being used to permanently station U.S. armed forces in Iraq.
We think that's enough to move this one to Promise Kept.
I am skeptical on this one, but strongly hope they are right, and I think it's an important item to consider.
MSNBC Video - Rachel Maddow (courtesy of blackwaterdog in the comments)
About 6,000 Combat Troops Remain in Iraq until August 31. Tonight the Last Brigade Left Iraq, Not the Last Combat Troops
Based on what I'm reading in the comments and news, I changed the title of the diary from "Combat Troops" to "Combat Brigade."
Their departure leaves about 56,000 U.S. troops in the country, according to the U.S. military.
Another 6,000 U.S. troops must leave Iraq to meet Obama's deadline for the end of U.S. combat operations in the country and the beginning of Operation New Dawn, in which the remaining U.S. forces are expected to switch to an advise-and-assist role.Another 6,000 U.S. troops must leave Iraq to meet Obama's deadline for the end of U.S. combat operations in the country and the beginning of Operation New Dawn, in which the remaining U.S. forces are expected to switch to an advise-and-assist role.
Reuters (courtesy of catnip in the comments)
WASHINGTON Aug 18 (Reuters) - The United States has completed the drawdown of its forces to Iraq to 50,000, ahead of the scheduled Aug. 31 date, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
He added the combat mission was not yet over and would continue until Aug. 31.
NBC News reported on Wednesday that the last U.S. combat troops had left Iraq and crossed the border into Kuwait, more than seven years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Administration officials said the NBC report was premature. The official said it had never been the U.S. intention to wait until Aug. 31 to remove the last troops scheduled for the drawdown.