FORT BRAGG, NC (AP) – President Barack Obama is marking the end of the Iraq war with a tribute to the troops who fought and died in a conflict he opposed from the start.
Accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, the president traveled Wednesday to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to address service members and their families as he brings the war to a close.
At a base that's seen more than 200 deaths over nearly nine years of fighting in Iraq, Obama highlighted the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of U.S. forces now on their way back home.
"I could not be prouder of you and America could not be prouder of you," said Obama who went on to say, "You have done something profound with your lives...When times were tough, you kept fighting."
All U.S. troops are to be out of Iraq Dec. 31, though Obama has pledged the U.S. will continue to help Iraq as it faces an uncertain future in a volatile region of the world. Even as majorities in the U.S. public favor ending the war, some Republicans have criticized Obama's withdrawal, arguing he's leaving behind an unstable Iraq that could hurt U.S. interests and fall subject to influence from neighboring Iran.
Obama has on several occasions addressed his reasons for ending the war, casting it as a promise kept after he ran for president as an anti-war candidate and speaking of the need to refocus U.S. attention on rebuilding the troubled economy at home.
"There is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long," said Obama, noting that many of the soldiers at Fort Bragg were in grade school when the war began.
Wednesday's visit was the president's first visit to Fort Bragg, which is home to Army Special Operations, the 18th Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne, among others. Special Forces troops from Fort Bragg were among the first soldiers in Iraq during the 2003 invasion and its paratroopers helped lead the 2007 troop increase.
North Carolina, which Obama narrowly won in 2008, is also an important state for the 2012 presidential election and will host the Democratic convention.
To underscore the political significance, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one of the leading GOP presidential contenders, addressed an open letter to Obama and sent it to the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer decrying the unemployment rate for veterans.
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The president said the war in total will likely cost the United States more than $1 trillion and that history will judge whether or not going to Iraq was a mistake.
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