Austin Gives Insight into Drawdown, Possible Aid to Iraq

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, July 11, 2011 — Iraqi lead­ers are hav­ing an intense and ongo­ing dia­logue about whether to ask U.S. forces to remain in Iraq after the sched­uled Dec. 31 with­draw­al date, the com­man­der of U.S. forces in Iraq said here today.
Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with reporters trav­el­ing with Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta.

Some 46,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers still are in Iraq, and the com­mand here has made prepa­ra­tions to begin with­draw­ing the remain­ing forces by the end of the year. The with­draw­al date was set as part of a U.S.-Iraq secu­ri­ty agree­ment signed in 2008.

U.S. forces will con­tin­ue to train Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, Austin said. “There are some things they need to do to ensure they have the capa­bil­i­ty they need for the future to pro­tect their sov­er­eign­ty,” he explained. Over­all, he added, the Iraqis need to con­tin­ue to work on their gov­ern­men­tal insti­tu­tions, espe­cial­ly rule of law.

Prepa­ra­tions for the draw­down have already begun, Austin said. The com­mand went from 92 bases in Jan­u­ary to 52 today. “We’ve done that while remain­ing engaged with the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces and help­ing and train­ing them as best we can,” the gen­er­al said. “We’ve also rede­ployed about 1 mil­lion pieces of equip­ment, and we’ve got about a mil­lion or so to go in the next sev­er­al months.”

Though Austin would­n’t give a spe­cif­ic time­line for the rede­ploy­ment, he did say the longer it con­tin­ues, the hard­er it would be to reverse it. “It’s evi­dent to every­one that once we get into the Octo­ber [and] Novem­ber time frame, you are real­ly tak­ing things apart that are dif­fi­cult to put back togeth­er,” he said.

Under the secu­ri­ty agree­ment, Iraq – as the host coun­try – is respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty for U.S. forces, Austin not­ed. “We ful­ly expect the Iraqis will do that,” the gen­er­al said. “We con­tin­ue to work with them as part­ners to address threats. That’s always the first option. If there is some­thing I need to do to pro­tect my sol­diers, and there is not a way to do that through the Iraqis, I will do what needs to be done to make sure my troops are pro­tect­ed.”

The gen­er­al said rede­ploy­ing the Amer­i­cans out of the coun­try is the easy part. “The hard­er parts are mov­ing the moun­tains of equip­ment and clos­ing the bases,” he said. “Ide­al­ly, what you want to do if you were me is main­tain as much capa­bil­i­ty to pro­tect your­self as you can for as long as you can. As you get clos­er to the fall, it becomes hard­er and hard­er to do.”

All this could change if Iraq requests that Amer­i­can help con­tin­ue after the Dec. 31 dead­line. Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki and oth­ers believe the Iraqis will need Amer­i­can help in the years ahead, Austin said.

“Prime Min­is­ter Mali­ki has said he has an emerg­ing capa­bil­i­ty to pro­vide for the inter­nal secu­ri­ty, but they still need to work on intel­li­gence col­lec­tion, logis­tics and those types of things,” Austin said. “But he has been clear about his inabil­i­ty to pro­tect the skies, some con­cerns about the bor­ders, and [that] there is more work that needs to be done about com­bined arms train­ing with the new equip­ment he is get­ting.”

Austin said he agrees with the prime minister’s assess­ment.

“There clear­ly is work that needs to con­tin­ue, but it is their choice as to how they go about doing that,” he said. “We can help them, [or] they can ask for help from a num­ber of oth­er sources.

“Quite frankly, we’re not push­ing the Iraqis to ask us for help,” Austin con­tin­ued. “All we’re say­ing is if they are going to ask us for help, [they should know] that soon­er is bet­ter for us, because it will not cause us to dis­as­sem­ble things that we will then have to spend mon­ey to reassem­ble at a lat­er date.”

While U.S. troops in Iraq are aware of the approach­ing dead­line, they sim­ply are going about their mis­sions, the gen­er­al said.

“They are try­ing to do as much as they can to devel­op their force,” Austin said. “I have folks out there help­ing advise, train and assist Iraqi forces. We’ve been involved in pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty for the provin­cial recon­struc­tion teams.

“With 46,000 troops that are work­ing through­out the coun­try, you don’t have a lot of slack,” he said. “Every­body is punch­ing way above their weight class. And they are excit­ed about help­ing cre­ate the Iraqi forces.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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