Friday, December 05, 2008

And then there were none -- Almost

The Seattle Times and a number of other newspapers carried articles in their December 5th editions highlighting the departure from Iraq of the 55-man contingent of marines sent by the Pacific island country of Tonga (not to be confused with the African country of Togo).

The choice to highlight the end of Tonga’s participation seems to have been made more on the basis of the colorful departure ceremony performed by the marines than for any other reason. Earlier contingents from the islands had been with U.S. Marines in Al Anbar province when some of the heaviest fighting during the occupation took place in Fallujah and Ramadi. Nonetheless, they are one of sixteen countries that sent troops over the course of the occupation that suffered no fatalities. (Twenty one countries other than the UK, which lost 177 soldiers and the U.S., which suffered 4,209 fatalities lost 138 troops.)

All told, as documented by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 48 other countries signed on to the post-invasion “coalition of the willing.” Of these, 38 sent troop contingents to Iraq as well as diplomatic cover for the U.S. and financial support. By December 2003, five countries had dropped out, and between January 2004 and May 2007, the number of non-U.S. troops fell from 24,000 to 12,600 and the number of contributing countries contracted to 25.

With Tonga’s departure, 18 countries remain. Twelve must remove all their troops by December 31st. Aside from the U.S., five other countries – Australia, El Salvador, Estonia, Romania, and the UK – will have troops in Iraq after the UN mandate that authorizes the presence of foreign military forces expires at the end of 2008. The Iraqi’s have skirted the issue of having approximately 5,500 troops from these five countries stay on without a formal agreement similar to the one with the U.S. by considering them as “trainers” for the Iraqi security forces. These non-U.S. foreign forces will not conduct operations, as U.S, troops will still be able to do under the security agreement worked out by Baghdad and Washington.

Nonetheless, big changes are coming for U.S. forces in Iraq. Stay tuned.


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