Odierno: U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq ‘Unlikely’ After Sept. 1

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2010 — It is unlike­ly the U.S. mil­i­tary will resume a com­bat mis­sion in Iraq after Sept. 1, the top U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der there said today, cit­ing progress in Iraq’s gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty forces.

Army Gen. Ray Odier­no appeared on Sun­day news talk shows today to dis­cuss the U.S. mis­sion in Iraq, as its com­bat role offi­cial­ly ends there Sept. 1. It would take a “com­plete fail­ure” of Iraqi forces, he said, for that mis­sion to change. 

“We don’t see that hap­pen­ing,” Odier­no said on CNN’s State of the Union. “[Iraqi forces] have been doing so well for so long now that we real­ly believe we’re beyond that point. 

“They con­tin­ue to grow,” he added. “We con­tin­ue to see devel­op­ment in their plan­ning, their abil­i­ty to con­duct oper­a­tions. We con­tin­ue to see polit­i­cal devel­op­ment, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, and all of these com­bined togeth­er will start to devel­op an atmos­phere that means bet­ter security.” 

The final U.S. com­bat brigade crossed the bor­der into Kuwait last week after more than sev­en years of fight­ing. About 50,000 U.S. troops are sched­uled to remain there until the end of 2011 to serve in an “advise and assist” role, train­ing Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces. U.S. forces peaked at more than 170,000 boots on the ground there dur­ing the 2007 troop surge. 

Odier­no said that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Iraq strat­e­gy is well under­way, and that the remain­ing 50,000 troops will pull out on time. 

But U.S. involve­ment in Iraq beyond 2011 is pos­si­ble, the gen­er­al said. Such sup­port would be at the request of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and would like­ly involve “tech­ni­cal” assis­tance. It would be sim­i­lar to agree­ments the Unit­ed States has with Sau­di Ara­bia and Egypt, he explained. 

“It’s about [Iraq] tech­ni­cal­ly devel­op­ing … pro­tect­ing their air space, their sea and their land bor­ders,” Odier­no said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “If the gov­ern­ment of Iraq requests that from us, we would cer­tain­ly con­sid­er that.” 

The U.S. mil­i­tary would con­sid­er pro­vid­ing com­bat troops, too, Odier­no added, explain­ing that the Unit­ed States wants a long-term rela­tion­ship with Iraq. Oba­ma and his nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sors would deter­mine the pol­i­cy if such a request was made, the gen­er­al said. 

“If [Iraq’s gov­ern­ment] ask us, that they might want us to stay longer, we would cer­tain­ly con­sid­er that,” he said. “That’s part of our devel­op­ing a long-term strate­gic part­ner­ship with them. That includes the secu­ri­ty aspect.” 

Ter­ror­ism con­tin­ues to be a threat in Iraq, the gen­er­al said, but extrem­ist actions involve attempts to dis­rupt gov­ern­ment and polit­i­cal process­es. And despite last week’s bomb­ing of an Iraqi army recruit­ing sta­tion in Bagh­dad, secu­ri­ty forces are proven and more than capa­ble of pro­tect­ing their peo­ple, he said. 

“We’ve been slow­ing turn­ing [secu­ri­ty] over to [Iraqi forces] for over a year,” Odier­no said. “For the past four or five months, they’ve had the lead, and they have been con­duct­ing secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions, and they’ve been able to sus­tain that at a lev­el that I think is acceptable.” 

While opti­mistic about the shift in the U.S. mis­sion in Iraq, Odier­no said it could be five years before a U.S. vic­to­ry there can be assured. 

“We’ve made lots of progress here,” he said. “To say whether we’ve won the war or not, we can see that in three to five years, as we see how Iraq turns out. I think we can call oper­a­tions a suc­cess, but in terms of win­ning the war, we’ve cer­tain­ly seen some great brav­ery from our sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines who’ve served here.” 

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

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