Irak — Odierno Notes Progress of Iraqi Forces

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2010 — As the troop draw­down con­tin­ues in Iraq, the top U.S. com­man­der there said he’s con­vinced the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are ready to take over more respon­si­bil­i­ty, and that the sac­ri­fices the Unit­ed States has made to get to this point will prove worth­while.

“I think we have an oppor­tu­ni­ty in Iraq we might nev­er get again,” Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, said dur­ing an inter­view with Sol­diers Radio and Television’s Gail McCabe.

As Iraq builds on the secu­ri­ty, eco­nom­ic and diplo­mat­ic progress made to date, Odier­no said, it stands to enhance sta­bil­i­ty beyond its own bor­ders with­in the broad­er Mid­dle East.

“If that hap­pens, I believe [the sac­ri­fice] has been worth it, because it could bring sta­bil­i­ty here for a long time,” he said.

Odier­no said he’s impressed with progress the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces have made, par­tic­u­lar­ly since the new secu­ri­ty agree­ment took effect in Jan­u­ary. “Today, they are in charge every­where in Iraq,” he said. “We no longer con­duct large-scale oper­a­tions in Iraq. They do. We sup­port those oper­a­tions.”

As a result, Odier­no said, he expects lit­tle change in how oper­a­tions are con­duct­ed on the ground when Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom wraps up Aug. 31 and the mis­sion in Iraq becomes Oper­a­tion New Dawn.

“Frankly, the mis­sions we are doing today are the same mis­sions we’ll do on 1 Sep­tem­ber when Oper­a­tion New Dawn starts,” he said. “We are already in sta­bil­i­ty oper­a­tions.”

The big dif­fer­ence will be that the Unit­ed States will have 50,000 rather than 95,000 troops on the ground – a force Odier­no called suf­fi­cient to con­tin­ue the sup­port mis­sion.

“We don’t need to do that with 95,000 in Iraq today,” he said. “It is time, and appro­pri­ate for [the Iraqis] to take on this respon­si­bil­i­ty, and [for] us to start to get more and more in the back­ground. … I think it is that time in the fight for us to do that.”

Mean­while, Odier­no said, the U.S. is com­mit­ted to train, equip, and most impor­tant­ly, pro­fes­sion­al­ize the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces dur­ing the next 20 months.

If there’s a sin­gle les­son learned from Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom, Odier­no said, it’s the impor­tance of the “uni­ty of effort” that brings togeth­er all of the ele­ments of nation­al pow­er need­ed to ensure suc­cess.

“This is a com­plex place, and it takes com­plex thought; it takes com­plex solu­tions to solve prob­lems here,” he said. He cred­it­ed young mil­i­tary lead­ers “who have adapt­ed over time” and learned how to use all the tools avail­able to them – through the mil­i­tary, the U.S. embassy, non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions.

“They have learned how to do that, and got­ten much bet­ter at it, and that is what has helped to dri­ve us toward a more sta­ble Iraq,” he said.

Odier­no said he hopes to take those lessons with him when he moves to his next mil­i­tary post.

“That’s the way we need to train our lead­ers of the future,” he said.

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