First US troops in drawdown plan now out of Iraq

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WASHINGTON, Sep 28 (Reuters) The first US military unit scheduled to withdraw from Iraq under the Bush administration's plan to reduce troop levels has left the war zone, a military spokeswoman today said.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a group of 2,200 Marines who were stationed in Anbar, have boarded a naval vessel and begun its trip home.

''The entire MEU is back aboard the Bonhomme Richard Strike Group on our way home,'' said Capt. Pamela Marshall.

The United States increased troop levels by about 30,000 earlier this year under a ''surge'' strategy aimed at creating enough security to allow Iraqi politicians to advance legislation Washington sees as critical to long-term stability.

In September, President George W Bush ordered reductions, approving a plan from his top commander in Iraq to bring the US force down by about 20,000 to 30,000 by mid-2008.

A brigade combat team, which normally includes about 4,000 troops, is expected to leave Iraq in mid-December followed by four other brigade combat teams and two Marine battalions.

The US force now totals about 165,000 in Iraq.

REUTERS SS RAI1952

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