Saturday, January 16, 2010
AL-ASAD, Iraq — The base loudspeaker no longer wakes them up with calls for blood donors; armored trucks sit idle in neat rows. The U.S. Marines who stood at some of the bloodiest turning points of the Iraq war are packing up and leaving.
Among the first troops to invade in March 2003, and the first to help turn enemy insurgents into allies, the Marines will be the first major wave of American forces to go as the U.S. military begins a withdrawal to be completed by the end of next year. For them, as for the rest of the U.S. military, this has been the longest war since Vietnam.
At their peak in October 2008, an estimated 25,000 Marines were in Iraq, mostly in the country's western Anbar province. Now only about 4,000 remain. They, too, will be gone shortly after the Marines officially hand over responsibility to the Army on Saturday.
"The security and stability that exists here is well within the means of the Iraqi security forces to maintain," Maj. Gen. Rick Tryon, the Marine commander in Iraq, said in a recent interview. "You don't need United States Marines to do this at this point. So it's time, and it's timely."
Besides, he added: "Afghanistan is calling."
The Pentagon already has deployed a Marine battalion to Afghanistan in a 30,000-troop buildup set to peak this summer.
More than 40 percent of all deaths of coalition forces in Iraq between 2004 and 2006 were inflicted in Anbar, a vast mostly desert province stretching from the western outskirts of Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Of the nearly 3,500 U.S. troops killed so far in hostile action in Iraq, at least 851 were Marines.