Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel marked the ten year anniversary of the war in Iraq Tuesday, acknowledging the sacrifices Americans and Iraqis have faced since the U.S. troops began the invasion on March 20th, 2003.
“While that conflict has been brought to an end, we must never lose sight of the tremendous sacrifices our brave men and women in uniform made during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn,” Hagel, a critic of the war while serving in the Senate, said in a statement.
Hagel expressed his gratitude to the 4,475 U.S. service members who died while serving, including 32,000 who returned home wounded. While the United States military sent more than one million service members to Iraq, the number of killed and time frame of the war was much bigger than projected.
In December of 2011 Operation Iraqi Freedom was brought to a close, bringing a significant number of American members home while still retaining an embassy in Baghdad with some 17,000 personnel. There are also American consulates spread out through the country in three major cities and between 4,000 to 5,000 defense contractors; leaving a sizeable American presence in the country.
Full statement by the Secretary:
This week marks the ten year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. While that conflict has been brought to an end, we must never lose sight of the tremendous sacrifices our brave men and women in uniform made during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Every one of the more than one million service members that deployed to Iraq, often for multiple tours of duty, deserves our highest praise and deepest debt of gratitude. They served with valor and met every challenge — from the streets of Fallujah and Sadr City to outposts in Ramadi and Mosul — always watching out for their brothers and sisters in arms.
The American people will always honor the sacrifices of the 4,475 U.S. service members who died in Iraq, and the more than 32,000 who came home wounded. Every man and woman who served in Iraq carries with them the scars of war. As we remember these quiet heroes this week we are also reminded of their families and their sacrifices, as we also honor and thank them.
Our reflections include the Iraqi people — the Iraqi soldiers and police officers who died alongside our own, the men and women who were caught in the crossfire, and those who still struggle today to secure and govern their nation. The Iraqi people will determine the future of Iraq and the United States will continue to support their efforts for a peaceful, secure, free, and prosperous nation.