The last U.S. combat troops were crossing the border into Kuwait on Thursday morning, bringing to a close the active combat phase of a 7½-year war that overthrew the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, forever defined the presidency of George W. Bush and left more than 4,400 American service members and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.
The final convoy of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., began entering Kuwait about 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), carrying the last of the 14,000 U.S. combat forces in Iraq, said NBC’s Richard Engel, who has been traveling with the brigade as it moved out this week.
The departure marks the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department, told msnbc TV. But while it is “an historic moment,” he said, it is not the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
“We are ending the war … but we are not ending our work in Iraq,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to Iraq.”
The long convoy began moving earlier this week, and as the last soldiers reached Kuwait after midnight, they said they were proud of their effort.
“We are done with operations,” Lt. Steven DeWitt of San Jose, Calif., said as his vehicle reached Khabari Crossing on the border.
“This was a professional soldier’s job,” he said, describing “a war that has defined this generation of military men and women.