White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Tuesday the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq is a "truly remarkable achievement." But he did not answer directly when asked if the nation would still be "at war" after the formal shift from a combat mission to one of support for Iraqi military units after Aug. 31.
"Right now, we still have two theaters of military operations: Iraq and Afghanistan," Brennan said during a briefing for reporters on Martha Vineyard, where President Obama is vacationing with his family.
Fewer than 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, according to Brennan, whose official title is assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. "After Sept. 1," he said at the top of the briefing, "the United States will have a different mission, one of advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, joining the Iraqis in targeted counterterrorism operations and protecting U.S. troops and civilians who remain in Iraq."
Obama, who ran for president as an anti-war candidate, is scheduled to address the nation on Iraq early next week, tentatively Aug. 31.
In Washington on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden used language similar to Brennan's, calling the drawdown a "remarkable milestone in a war that began more than seven years ago." The reduction to fewer than 50,000 troops makes good on a commitment that Obama made before taking office, Biden said. "We owe a debt of gratitude to our military.