President Barack Obama announced his intention to withdraw American combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2010, but that a residual force of as many as 50,000 trainers and advisors willh remain in the country until the end of 2011. The Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq requires that all American forces depart Iraq by December 31, 2011.
Of course, the anti-war groups that supported Obama during the presidential campaign expressed dissatisfaction with the plan, claiming that Obama promised to withdraw all force within 16 months and end the war. They also argue that leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq until 2011 is not "ending" the war.
Perhaps the President has had a reality check after the inauguration and realizes that setting arbitrary dates does not "end" wars, it loses wars.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would like to maintain a small number of U.S. troops in Iraq even past the SOFA deadline at the end of 2011. Gates says the force would be there to train Iraqi forces and possibly conduct intelligence operations.
Gates is correct - we should maintain a troop presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future. However, it goes beyond training the Iraqis and conducting intelligence operations. As long as Iran and Syria are involved in activities that are inimical to American national interests, and Americans continue to rely on oil as a primary source of energy, we need to be in position to conduct military operations in the Middle East. Iraq is centrally located to the area of operations and sits between the two countries that are major obstacles to peace.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations accused Iran - rightly - of attempting to develop nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism. Syria is a conduit for Iranian money and weapons to Hizballah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Maintaining an American force presence - especially an air base - reinforces the almost encirclement of the two countries by countries friendly to the United States. Keeping American troops in Iraq would enable us to exert diplomatic pressure backed up by U.S forces.