- Associated Press - Monday, August 2, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama will set a course Monday for the nation’s changing mission in Iraq as the military prepares to end its combat operations there.

In a speech at the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, Mr. Obama was to address the progress being made to meet his deadline of drawing down all combat troops by the end of the month. A transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide security for ongoing U.S. civilian efforts.

“Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats,” Mr. Obama said in excerpts released ahead of the speech.

Mr. Obama has said all U.S. troops will be gone from Iraq by the end of next year.

At the same time Mr. Obama has drawn down forces in Iraq, he has increased the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, ordering a surge of 30,000 additional troops. But with casualties on the rise, there are fresh concerns about the 9-year mission in Afghanistan, as well as Mr. Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, a timetable that critics say will embolden the Taliban and other extremist groups in the region.

Facing a potential loss of public and congressional support for the Afghanistan war, the White House is painting the U.S. mission there as humble and achievable: keeping the region from being a haven for terrorists.

“What we’re looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it’s a fairly modest goal,” Mr. Obama told the CBS “Sunday Morning” show.

Despite the surge in Afghanistan, there are fewer U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan now than there were when Mr. Obama took office last year. Come September, when the Iraq drawdown is complete, the White House says there will 146,000 troops on the ground, down from 177,000 in January 2009.

During his remarks Monday, Mr. Obama is expected to speak about the government’s efforts to support those troops, as well as veterans of other wars.

“While our country has sometimes been divided, they have fought together as one,” Mr. Obama said in the excerpts. “While other individuals and institutions have shirked responsibility, they have welcomed it.”

After the speech, Mr. Obama was scheduled to attend a fundraising lunch for the Democratic National Committee, his latest stop in a summer fundraising sprint that also includes events in Chicago later this week.

But Georgia’s most prominent Democrat, former Gov. Roy Barnes, won’t be joining Mr. Obama at either of his stops Monday. Mr. Barnes, who is running to get his old job back, had previously scheduled events in southern Georgia, his campaign said.

Distancing himself from the president could be politically smart for Mr. Barnes. Georgia is a Republican stronghold that John McCain carried in 2008. A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. in July had Mr. Obama with a 37 percent approval rating in the state. Fifty percent of those surveyed disapproved of Mr. Obama’s performance.

Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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