Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, said some U.S. troops are headed home, bringing cheer to the Camp Pendleton Marine base in California, which could see some of the first troops return.
Petraeus said the gradual reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq could begin as early as this month, and that troops in Iraq could be down to the pre-surge level of 130,000 by summer.
"I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq. In fact, later this month the Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed as part of the surge will depart Iraq," the general said in testimony Monday before the U.S. House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit left for Iraq in April as part of the troop surge introduced in January.
The 2,100 Marines spent a sweltering summer on patrol in Anbar province, often searching for explosives. A couple of months ago near Tharthar Dam, they uncovered a homemade bomb factory, and 17 tons of weapons.
Gen. Petraeus says the unit should wrap up its mission in Iraq on schedule this month, and no replacements are expected.
If all goes as planned, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit should be home in San Diego in November.
"It would be an awesome Christmas present for everybody, especially the families that have been going through this," said Carrie Baines, who works at the Coast Highway Barbershop near Camp Pendleton where Marine and American flags flap in the window. "That's where my heart goes out. It goes out to the young men's and women's wives, their children, their parents. It will be a good thing for all of them."
Also, members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton are scheduled to deploy at the beginning of next year.
Touching up a young sailor's haircut, Baines says she hopes Petraeus is sincere about reducing U.S. forces in Iraq. Many of the young men who've sat in her barber chair have done multiple tours there.
Even as Gen. Petreaus addressed lawmakers Monday about the progress of the war in Iraq and expected troop drawdown, Camp Pendleton announced that four more Marines were killed in Anbar province.
"We've lost a lot of people, and I think it's time. And not just us — the Iraqis have lost a lot of people too. And my heart goes out to those people also" she added.
The town of Oceanside, Calif., sits just outside Camp Pendleton, and the presence (or absence) of Marines is never far from people's minds.
Pete and May Signori, who were strolling on the Oceanside Pier, said the troop drawdown is overdue.
"We want them to come home," said May. Added Pete: "It's a good idea but it's kind of late; too many guys getting hurt."
Polls show even in conservative strongholds, support for the war has worn thin. And talking with people around near Camp Pendleton, the sentiments are the same.
Bill Omler said he backed the fighting in the beginning, but is happy now to hear that some troops will be leaving Iraq. "I think that's a good idea. We need to get 'em home."
Omler, who is from Idaho, wears a Marine T-shirt in honor of his son, who is a part of a reconnaissance unit at Camp Pendleton but hasn't been to Iraq yet. "I hope he doesn't have to go. At this point, I think it's a waste of time."
Gen. Petraeus said he expects the gradual drawdown in troops to continue, with an Army brigade of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers coming home in December.
His plan would take until next July, however, to reduce U.S. forces to their pre-surge levels. Fresh troops would still be sent to Iraq.