DOD Works Toward Successful Transition in Iraq

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2011 — The recent Mid­dle East tur­moil under­scores the impor­tance of an active U.S. engage­ment in Iraq and a “shoring up” of rela­tions with key region­al part­ners, the deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for the Mid­dle East said yes­ter­day.
“[The Defense Depart­ment] strong­ly believes we must remain focused on Iraq in order to advance our broad­er region­al objec­tives of peace, pros­per­i­ty and secu­ri­ty,” Col­in Kahl told the House For­eign Affairs Committee’s Mid­dle East and South Asia sub­com­mit­tee.

In his open­ing remarks, Kahl pro­vid­ed an assess­ment of the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Iraq as the Unit­ed States tran­si­tions from a mil­i­tary- to civil­ian-led effort there, and the impor­tance of estab­lish­ing the ground­work for a long-term part­ner­ship with the nation.

While ter­ror­ist and mili­tia attacks con­tin­ue to pose a threat, Kahl acknowl­edged, the under­ly­ing secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Iraq remains strong. With Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces lead­ing the way, attack lev­els have remained near their low­est lev­els of the entire war over the past two years.

“This is par­tic­u­lar­ly remark­able, con­sid­er­ing that the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces have assumed pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty for the entire coun­try,” he said, “and our U.S. force num­bers have declined from rough­ly 144,000 — when the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion came into office in Jan­u­ary of 2009 — to rough­ly 47,000 today.”

Since they took the secu­ri­ty lead Jan. 1, 2009, Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces have “more capa­bly embraced” their role with each pass­ing month, Kahl not­ed, a role fur­ther cement­ed Sept. 1, 2010, as Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom became Oper­a­tion New Dawn, reduc­ing troop num­bers and sig­ni­fy­ing the end of the com­bat mis­sion there.

The com­bat mission’s end did not, how­ev­er, sig­ni­fy the end of U.S. sup­port. The Unit­ed States con­tin­ues to sup­port Iraqi forces through train­ing, equip­ping, men­tor­ing and advis­ing, Kahl said.

How­ev­er, “we need to be clear that the Iraqis are very much in charge, and they sim­ply no longer need such large num­bers of U.S. forces to help them keep the vio­lence in check,” Kahl said.

Kahl acknowl­edged an ongo­ing threat from ter­ror­ist and mili­tia groups, cit­ing two dead­ly attacks in May. A series of car bombs mid-month tar­get­ing Iraqi police­men killed more than two dozen peo­ple, and anoth­er series of attacks by al-Qai­da in Iraq lat­er that month left 14 dead and dozens wound­ed.

“Iraq still faces dan­ger­ous and deter­mined ene­mies,” he said, “but it is impor­tant to empha­size that these ene­mies do not have the sup­port of the Iraqi peo­ple, and these attacks have not sparked a return to wide­spread insur­gency or com­mu­nal civ­il war.”

Beyond efforts to build Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces and draw down forces there, the Defense Depart­ment and oth­er agen­cies also are under­tak­ing “unprece­dent­ed lev­els of coor­di­na­tion and plan­ning” for the tran­si­tion, he said. In par­tic­u­lar, DOD is work­ing close­ly with the State Depart­ment to achieve a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion, he added, cit­ing sev­er­al exam­ples.

The Defense Depart­ment embed­ded a staff offi­cer with­in the tran­si­tion team to serve as a liai­son and work day-to-day issues with the State Depart­ment, Kahl said. Also, he added, the Defense and State depart­ments have estab­lished a steer­ing group to review sta­tus and progress in areas such as sup­ply chain, equip­ment, con­tract­ing, med­ical, facil­i­ties and con­struc­tion, infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy, secu­ri­ty and avi­a­tion.

To quick­ly respond to equip­ment requests, a com­bined equip­ping board was estab­lished in Jan­u­ary to feed rec­om­men­da­tions for equip­ment sourc­ing to senior lead­ers.

Final­ly, the Defense and State depart­ments estab­lished a team in each of the remain­ing loca­tions in Iraq to assess and address issues that may arise after these sites tran­si­tion, Kahl said.

“As one would expect with a tran­si­tion of this scope and com­plex­i­ty, chal­lenges exist,” he said, “but rest assured that DOD is doing every­thing it can to help the State Depart­ment achieve suc­cess.”

Chal­lenges aside, the nation’s ongo­ing engage­ment in Iraq remains vital, Kahl not­ed.

“We are now at the point where the strate­gic div­i­dends of our tremen­dous sac­ri­fices and huge invest­ments in Iraq are with­in reach, as long as we take the prop­er steps to con­sol­i­date them,” he said. “A long-term strate­gic part­ner­ship with Iraq based on mutu­al inter­ests and mutu­al respect con­tin­ues to present many advan­tages.”

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

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