Austin Notes Progress Over Eight Years in Iraq

BAGHDAD, April 7, 2011 — With the last U.S. forces remain­ing in Iraq sched­uled to depart by year’s end, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III reflect­ed today on the steps for­ward he’s seen in three tours of duty here.
“We’ve made a lot of progress here in Iraq over the last eight years, the com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq told reporters here trav­el­ing with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates. “It’s been inter­est­ing to watch things devel­op. It’s been very hard and delib­er­ate work, but I think we’re begin­ning to see some div­i­dends here.”

The gen­er­al not­ed that ever since the first pla­toon of Iraq’s new secu­ri­ty force stood up after Sad­dam Hus­sein was removed from pow­er, it has been engaged in some form of com­bat. “We’ve grown this force. We’ve manned it, trained it and equipped it, all while fight­ing,” he said. “As a result of that, we’ve devel­oped a pret­ty good capa­bil­i­ty to pro­vide for inter­nal secu­ri­ty.”

That effort, how­ev­er, did not allow the oppor­tu­ni­ty to focus in earnest on pro­vid­ing for an Iraqi capa­bil­i­ty for defense against exter­nal threats, Austin acknowl­edged.

“So the Iraqis still need to work on that,” he said. “[They need] the abil­i­ty to defend the skies, and they still need work on com­bined-arms train­ing — mod­ern equip­ment, mod­ern tanks and how­itzers, and tanks and how­itzers work­ing togeth­er in com­bined action.”

Going for­ward, the gen­er­al added, the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces also must con­tin­ue work­ing to improve their logis­tics sys­tems and fur­ther devel­op their intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties.

Austin said the Iraqis have a good appre­ci­a­tion for what they need, and if they believe they’ll require help in the future, they’ll have to request it.

And with the need under the cur­rent agree­ment for the 47,000 remain­ing U.S. forces to depart Iraq over the next eight months, “soon­er is bet­ter” for such a request to occur, the gen­er­al said.

The time Iraq is tak­ing to form its gov­ern­ment has had an impact on all of this, Austin not­ed.

“With­out a min­is­ter of defense and a min­is­ter of inte­ri­or, it’s dif­fi­cult for the mil­i­tary and police forces to have that dia­logue in earnest and make what­ev­er rec­om­men­da­tions are appro­pri­ate to the strate­gic lead­er­ship,” he said. The Iraqi army comes under the defense min­istry, and the nation­al police work for the inte­ri­or min­is­ter.

The absence of a link between the oper­a­tional lev­els in the two min­istries and Iraq’s strate­gic-lev­el lead­ers makes things dif­fi­cult, the gen­er­al said. Unlike in the Unit­ed States, where redun­dant sys­tems help to make that process con­tin­ue to flow, Austin added, Iraq has a young gov­ern­ment in which that prin­ci­ple is not yet present.

For now, Austin said, the remain­ing U.S. forces in Iraq will con­tin­ue their mis­sions.

“Our man­date is, quite frankly, to help the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces improve as much as we can for as long as we can,” he said. “We’re try­ing to help to cre­ate a cred­i­ble force here, and we’re doing every­thing we can until we have to focus in earnest on rede­ploy­ment and repos­tur­ing.”

Main­tain­ing the cur­rent lev­el of U.S. forces as long as pos­si­ble also ben­e­fits the force-pro­tec­tion effort, the gen­er­al added.

As Iraq pre­pares to stand on its own, Austin said, its lead­ers are proud of their democ­ra­cy.

“Democ­ra­cy is not easy,” he said, “but it’s pret­ty good. When oth­er folks are try­ing to acquire a democ­ra­cy, they have one. They’ve worked hard to get to where they are, and there’s some­thing to be said about that.

The gen­er­al praised the hard work and sac­ri­fices of U.S. sol­diers, sailors, air­men, Marines, Coast Guards­men and their fam­i­lies in bring­ing Iraq to where it is today.

“Some of these young­sters are on their fourth tour or fifth tour, and they sad­dle up and come back and do this, and they do feel as if they’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, and they’re proud of what they’re doing,” he said.

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

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