The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has fallen below 50,000 for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline mandated by President Barack Obama, the American military said in a statement Tuesday.

The number is a watershed in the more than seven years that the United States has been at war in Iraq. Under Obama’s plan, American forces will no longer conduct combat operations but are instead to focus on training Iraqi troops.

“We’ve met our goal,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the commanding general in Iraq, told reporters Tuesday. “But the story is not about 50,000. The story is that we are continuing to be committed to Iraq. But our commitment is going to change.”

Odierno said that going forward, the focus will be on economic, political, cultural, and technological developments as opposed to just the military relationship.

There are currently 49,700 troops in Iraq and that number will remain level through next summer, Odierno said.

The drawdown comes at a fragile moment in Iraq’s history when many are wondering whether the country’s tenuous security and democracy gains are at risk of backsliding. The country has gone almost half a year without a new government following the March 7 parliamentary elections.

Source: Rebecca Santana for AP News.

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