Dempsey: Exit From Iraq is Not Exit From Region

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 Command�Iraq.

“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)

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