KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT, Dec. 14, 2011 — As the last 5,700 U.S. troops leave Iraq to govern itself as a sovereign nation, the best way for the United States to support that country’s success is to stay broadly engaged in the region, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
As part of his first USO holiday tour as chairman, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey landed at dawn at Kuwait International Airport, traveling with his senior enlisted advisor, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, their wives, and celebrities arriving to entertain the troops.
“The exit from Iraq is not an exit from the region,” Dempsey told reporters just before the USO show at Camp Buehring, one of three remaining staging posts for troops and their equipment in northwestern Kuwait.
“The best way to ensure Iraq has the kind of future we all want for it is to stay engaged broadly,” the chairman said, adding that the Strategic Framework Agreement, signed by the United States and Iraq in 2008 to establish long-term bonds of cooperation and friendship, directed that the relationship be built through mutual interests in security as well as trade, education and culture, law enforcement, environment and energy.
Dempsey’s thoughts about Iraq and its future arise from years of experience there.
In 1991 he deployed with the 3rd Armored Division in support of Operation Desert Storm, a war waged against Iraq by a U.N.-authorized, U.S.-led coalition force representing 34 nations in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
In June 2003, Dempsey took command of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad and served there for 14 months. In 2005 he returned to Iraq for two years to train and equip the Iraqi security forces as commanding general of the Multinational Security Transition Commandï¿½Iraq.
“Based on the [Iraqi] security forces’ … ability to manage their internal security threats, I think they’re on a very stable platform,” he said.
“That needs to continue to develop,” the chairman added, noting that they have work to do on building some of the architectures that define stability.
“They have and will continue to work on air sovereignty, intelligence architectures, logistics architectures and the training and education component,” Dempsey said.
The United States will offer Iraq support through an Office of Security Cooperation, established to help Iraqis acquire and then learn how to use military equipment they buy from the United States.
In Iraq that office will include 157 people assigned to the U.S. embassy and under the authority of the ambassador, and some who might come in on individual contracts for two or three months at a time to help the Iraqis train on U.S. equipment.
Having spent three years in Iraq working to help the leadership establish their own stability and build their own capabilities, Dempsey said the goal always was to help Iraq become a stabilizing influence in the region.
“We always thought they had the potential to do that,” he added, with their economic strength, rich cultural history, good education system, agricultural development and water resources.
Dempsey said the intense effort to move troops out of Iraq, prompted by President Barack Obama’s Oct. 21 announcement of the 2011 end-of-year deadline, delayed the emotional impact of the reality.
“The truth is I only found myself thinking about that in … the last 24 hours,” he said.
In those moments, he said, “I reflected on the fact that this has been a 20-year journey for me” and others who were part of the conflict with Iraq that began in 1990.
“If you were in the service, notably in the Army, and notably the heavy force of the Army,” the chairman said, “Iraq was the defining element of the last 20 years of our careers.”
Dempsey said he’s proud of what U.S. military forces and others did in 1991 in Iraq and what U.S. forces have done over the past eight years.
“I think we’ve given Iraq an enormous opportunity,” he said.
“We’ve built relationships with the Iraqi military that will persist well into the future,” Dempsey said, “and on that basis they’ve had the chance to become the responsible stable nation state that they say they want to become.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)