Applauding their "extraordinary achievement," President Barack Obama saluted returning troops Wednesday, declaring that the nearly nine-year conflict in Iraq is ending "not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home."
Marking the conclusion of the war at this military redoubt that's seen more than 200 deaths over nearly nine years of fighting in Iraq, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed several thousand troops and several hundred military families.
"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages," he said.
Obama highlighted the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of U.S. forces now on their way back home. He recalled the start of the war, a time when he was only an Illinois state senator and many of the warriors before him were in grade school.
The war, he said, took many twists and turns.
"We knew this day would come. We have known it for some time now," he said. "But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long."
He noted the early battles that defeated and deposed Saddam Hussein and what he called "the grind of insurgency" -- roadside bombs, snipers and suicide attacks.
"Your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it," he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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 was traveling 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 was to highlight the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of U.S. forces now on their way back home.
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.
On Wednesday, his focus will be principally on the troops and their role and his commitment to ensuring veterans get the jobs and resources they need once they're back home. His audience will be those people most personally affected, including troops back from Iraq and their families.
In a local television interview Tuesday, Obama previewed some of his likely themes.
"We must not forget the men and women who gave their lives, tens of thousands wounded, all those missed birthday parties, missed soccer games and missed dinners because folks were on their second or third deployment. We should not take that for granted," the president told KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs, Colo. "It is an extraordinary testimony to the bravery, courage, dedication and patriotism of our soldiers."
It's 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, also is an important state for the 2012 presidential election and will host the Democratic convention.