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U.S. Out Of Iraq In 19 Months? Not Really

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Aides to President Obama made it known Tuesday that the administration's revised timeline has all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by August 2010.

Though that's three months later than Mr. Obama vowed to remove the troops during the campaign, it appears, at first glance, to mark a commitment to following through on the president's promise to end the war in Iraq soon after taking office.

He is expected to formally announce his Iraq plan during a visit to Camp Lejuene, N.C. on Friday, according to a CBS News source. During his joint address to Congress Tuesday night, the president promised to announce a plan that "leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war."

But will the U.S. truly be leaving Iraq? Not really. There are now about 142,000 troops in the country. Once Mr. Obama's drawdown is finished next August, aides say, between 30,000 and 50,000 troops will remain.

The way that the administration justifies leaving so many troops behind – while also intimating that the U.S. is effectively pulling out of the country – is by differentiating between "combat" and "non combat" troops. The troops who stay behind, they suggest, will be non-combat, the kind who are there to "advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests."

The problem with that argument is that this job description sounds a lot like what the current batch of U.S. troops in Iraq – the vast majority of whom are, apparently, of the "combat" variety – are doing right now.

"There is no such thing as non-combat troops," Thomas Ricks, the Washington Post Pentagon reporter, said on CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged" earlier this month. Ricks went on to suggest that Mr. Obama might be waging war in Iraq even longer than his predecessor, George W. Bush, troop drawdown or no.

That remains to be seen. But the distinction between "combat" and "non-combat" troops appears to be fuzzier than the administration might like.

"The Pentagon will never leave troops in a war zone without giving them the ability to defend themselves," CBS News national security correspondent David Martin told Hotsheet. "In other words, those stay behind troops, although they will be designated as 'training and assistance' brigades, will be fully combat capable."

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "a limited number of those that remain will conduct combat operations against terrorists, assisting Iraqi security forces," though he added that "by and large you're talking about people who we would classify as enablers, support troops."

It's also worth noting that during the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama (among others) pounced on Sen. John McCain for saying U.S. troops could end up spending "maybe 100" years in Iraq.

"As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, it's fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day," McCain said.

The Republican presidential nominee later explained he was talking about a non-combat U.S. presence like the one maintained in countries like Japan, Germany and South Korea. But Mr. Obama said that McCain's "100 years" comment was "reason enough not to give him four years in the White House."

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