Nightly News | December 18, 2011
>>> came up over the middle east this morning, the last american troops exited iraq , literally closing the gates behind them. they left the way they came, back in early 2003 , rolling into kuwait with military precision. in the end, it was an almost nine-year long journey, over a path paved with triumph and heartache, hope and frustration. we lost 4,487 of our men and women in uniform. the number of wounded, over 32,000. the price tag, $800 billion. finally, it is over. and tonight those who served and those who bravely waited for them here at home are taking stock of it all. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel was there to witness the historic moment. he joins us now from kuwait . richard , good evening.
>> reporter: good evening, lester . it was an organized, dignified exit from iraq and now the rest of the troops have returned here to kuwait . a convoy of mraps moved into kuwait in a single file line. it left iraq without firing a shot.
>> it is a piece of history. it was a privilege to be part of it.
>> reporter: the last 480 troops to leave iraq following a million americans who came before them. their journey began 12 hours earlier, 200 miles north in southern iraq . at sunset at iraq 's camp adder, they smoked cigars and checked every engine. then 110 vehicles were on their way in the darkness, holding a steady 35 miles an hour.
>> how does it feel up there?
>> reporter: until lights appeared, the kuwaiti border, and the crossing began. it is now just after sunrise here in kuwait , as the last american troops leave iraq . some of the soldiers have been waving. others taking pictures to remember this moment, the moment the iraq war ended. moments later, the gate to iraq was shut. one vehicle got special attention, the last of the last to exit iraq . this specialist from hawaii will be able to tell his friends, wife and eventually the daughter he hasn't seen since she was born that he was the last soldier to leave iraq .
>> all we care about is everybody got home in one piece, safely, you know, nothing going on, no attacks or anything, just safe and smooth right back here.
>> reporter: the last female soldier was specialist britney hampton, from texas.
>> i'm just proud, honestly. i'm glad it's over. a sense of relief.
>> reporter: military families like hers carried the burden of this war. other americans at times preferred to ignore. hampton's father served four tours in iraq . she's finishing one. her fiance did one too.
>> we're going to have christmas at our house this year. that's all i'm looking forward to, all i can think about.
>> reporter: now it is over, after many are struggling with injuries, trauma, divorce and anger. today, the troops left with their spirits high.
>> it is a great day for not just for me, but for everybody. all the sacrifices the united states made and over the course of the iraq war .
>> reporter: a controversial war, perhaps not mission accomplished , but at least now mission complete. also, lester , after all of these years of war, the iraqis have paid a heavy price, about 150,000 iraqis killed since the conflict began. and here it is, lester , the last vehicle. and you can see where the soldiers wrote in chalk, just that, last vehicle out of iraq . all that is left now is to send all of this home.
>> richard , you have a good perspective. you were there for the beginning and were there for the end. what does the u.s. leave behind in iraq ?
>> reporter: the fear is that iraq is becoming a sectarian shiite state. i think it is revealing that the last american base was called camp adder, named after a snake, but as soon as it was handed over to the iraqi government , it was renamed the iman ali air base , named after the founder of shiite islam .
>> richard engel in kuwait tonight. richard , thank you.