U.S. Staff Sergeant Kendrick Manuel swung his rifle over his shoulder and grumbled about being viewed as a “non-combat” soldier in Iraq.
“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 U.S. military base, Camp Speicher, near Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit.
On August 31, the U.S. 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 U.S. soldiers have been killed since 2003.
U.S. networks such as NBC showed what the U.S. military labeled 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.
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I have a friend that is part of the six brigades that are still in Iraq. His feelings are similar to that of SSGT Manuel quoted above. He says it’s a lot of media hype and propaganda, and things on the ground over there have not really changed at all. I look forward to the date that all our soldiers come home safe and sound.