BAGHDAD, Dec. 13, 2010 — Iraqi security forces are enabling progress in the country, a senior U.S. military officer in Iraq said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, deputy commander for operations at U.S. Forces Iraq, noted that things have changed in 2010.
“In 2009, we had somewhere over 100,000 U.S. forces working shoulder to shoulder to maintain security with the Iraqi security forces,” Cone said. “Since the U.S. forces started the drawdown, the Iraqi forces have [the security lead].”
This year saw a 20 percent reduction in violence from 2009, the general said. The year saw the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom – the U.S. combat operation – and the beginning of Operation New Dawn, the current “advise and assist” operation. About 48,000 American servicemembers remain in Iraq, with the majority involved in training Iraqi forces as the Iraqis themselves are responsible for security.
“This role of advise, train and assist is legitimate,” Cone said. “It is really rare, and only in cases of self-defense, that U.S. forces are directly involved in combat operations.”
U.S. forces do provide enablers for the Iraqi forces, and American units provide logistics and maintenance, surveillance support, some communications and intelligence support. But even in these areas, Cone said, the Americans are teaching the Iraqis how to develop and sustain the capabilities.
“On a day-to-day basis, it is the Iraqis who maintain the level of security we see today,” he said.
The general said today’s average of 15 attacks per day across Iraq is comparable to pre-Iraqi Freedom days. “Where the Iraqis are making some headway in the recent months is in their actions to pursue counterterrorism,” he said, noting that the Iraqis are stopping attacks before they are launched.
Intelligence reports indicated that terrorist groups wanted to launch as many as 15 car-bomb attacks on Dec. 4, Cone said. Iraqi security forces did some major raids prior to that day and “rolled up a bunch of folks, and what you saw was only three such attacks,” he added.
“That’s still bad — they still killed people and it is tragic,” he said. “But the Iraqis proved they are capable now of really diminishing these attacks in an impressive way.” Al-Qaida in Iraq has been remarkably resilient over time, Cone said. “Any time we do not maintain pressure against them, you will find their capability regenerates,” he said. Recent al-Qaida attacks have been effective, he acknowledged, but less so than in the past. In addition to having to weather attacks, the group is plagued with financial woes and struggling to get foreign fighters in, Cone said. And they are unable to recruit among Iraqis, he added.
“The number of foreign fighters coming in is less than 10 a month,” he said, “but the Iraqis have made some inroads in addressing this flow.” What remains of al-Qaida in Iraq is a loosely coupled network that has sufficient communications to conduct lethal attacks, the general said, “but nowhere near what we’ve seen in the past.”
With all American forces scheduled to be out of Iraq by the end of next year, Cone said, the legacy of American forces for Iraqi security forces is the idea of civilian control of the military.
“Over the next year, they are very much focused on learning as much as they can from us,” he said. “That is very positive, because they have a large sense of urgency in understanding all of the professional skills that U.S. forces have here.
“Where we are today in Iraq has been paid for in blood and in the riches of the American taxpayer,” Cone continued. “Being at the level of violence we are today is an accomplishment that the U.S. and Iraqi forces share.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)