Last U.S. Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq

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The last U.S. combat brigade in Iraq - the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade - left the country Wednesday night, crossing the border into Kuwait for flights back to the homeland.

The U.S. mission there is far from over, but the draw down is a huge step in America's goal to put Iraq's future in the hands of the Iraqi people.

It is another sign of America's mission of turning from war to diplomacy. But as the U.S. military packs up and ships out Iraq, one Iraqi general said the country is at a crossroads, still on the verge of control or chaos.

After seven years and five months of war, the last combat brigade's departure comes not a day too soon for many soldiers.

For more on the last troop withdrawal in Iraq, CBN News spoke with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  Click play for his comments following the updated report. 

"It's just a relief," said Timothy Berrena of the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade. "Twelve months of straight being in that vehicle finally getting out and realizing that it could be the last time I wear that kit in a while, it's a nice feeling."

The celebration and the exodus come nearly two weeks before President Barack Obama's Aug. 31 deadline for ending combat operations.

"Our commitment in Iraq is changing -- from a military effort led by our troops, to a civilian effort led by our diplomats," Obama said.

"After three tours of duty in Iraq, it's time to spend time with my family," said Gen. Donald Currier of the California National Guard.

Currier has already returned to his home in California, sharing photos from his year-long mission. He commanded the 49th Military Police Brigade, and trained Iraqi police to protect their own country -- as they battled weekly, sometimes daily, insurgent explosions.

"They can do what they need to do, technically and tactically," Currier said. "politically, its a different issue. A lot of what they need to do is driven by politics and community standards and they have a ways to go."

There are still 59,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The goal is to reduce that number to 50,000 by Aug. 31, when the combat mission is officially over.

Those troops that will remain in Iraq will be the smallest number there since the March 2003 invasion. Their mission will be to continue training Iraqi troops and police to protect the country against insurgents.

According to an agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. forces must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

As of Wednesday, the Pentagon said 4,415 members of the U.S. Armed Forces lost their lives in the Iraq war.

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