Iraq combat over but US troops still in danger

The remaining 50,000 soldiers face frequent threats to their lives

“When NBC talked about the last combat troops are gone, they made it sound like everything is basically over,” he said, after escorting a 19-truck convoy through a part of northern Iraq where roadside bombs and mortar attacks are still a danger.

“To us it was like a slap in the face, because we are still here... we are still going in harm’s way every time we leave out of the gate,” Manuel said at a US military base, Camp Speicher.

On August 31, the US military formally declared an end to its combat mission in Iraq, 7-1/2 years after the invasion that removed Saddam and led to sectarian warfare and a fierce insurgency in which tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed. More than 4,400 US soldiers have been killed since 2003.

US networks such as NBC showed what the US military labelled the last combat brigade rumbling into Kuwait. Soldiers whooped and shouted on camera that the war was over.
Yet, there are still six brigades made up of 50,000 troops in Iraq, ahead of a full withdrawal at the end of 2011. Their focus is to assist and advise their Iraqi counterparts, not lead the fight against insurgents, but they remain heavily armed and face frequent threats.

The hype around the change of mission, which allowed President Barack Obama to say he was fulfiling a pledge to start ending the war, set off complaints among some soldiers left behind who were no longer viewed as combat troops.

US military convoys are still shot at and bombed, and bases are mortared, despite a change in the name of the US mission from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn. “That doesn’t really change a thing, it is still dangerous,” said 22-year-old Specialist Byron Reed, on his second deployment in Iraq.

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