Secretary Notes ‘Responsible End’ to Iraq Mission

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Oct. 21, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s announce­ment today that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by year’s end was “a real turn­ing point from the last 10 years of war.”

“At the end of this year, there will be a clear end to the U.S. com­bat pres­ence in Iraq,” the sec­re­tary told reporters trav­el­ing with him to Indone­sia on the first leg of a three-nation over­seas trip.

Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, hun­dreds of thou­sands of ser­vice mem­bers have deployed there. “As we know, 4,500 were killed in action, and some 32,000 were wound­ed,” Panet­ta said.

The sec­re­tary said he is pro­found­ly grate­ful to the U.S. mil­i­tary men and women who have served in Iraq, and to their fam­i­lies. They have borne a heavy bur­den and paid a great price, he added.

“I think it’s a tes­ta­ment to their strength and to their resilience that we are now able to bring this war to a respon­si­ble end,” he said. “Thanks to their ser­vice and thanks to their sac­ri­fice, Iraq is ready to gov­ern and defend itself, and to con­tribute to the secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty of a … vital part of the world.”

The sec­re­tary said U.S. defense offi­cials will now turn their “full atten­tion” to pur­su­ing a long-term strate­gic part­ner­ship with Iraq based on mutu­al inter­ests and respect.

“Our goal will be to estab­lish a nor­mal rela­tion­ship, sim­i­lar to oth­ers in the region that focus­es on meet­ing secu­ri­ty and train­ing needs for Iraq,” he said.

Iraq is a sov­er­eign nation that must deter­mine its own future, and “we will help them in every way to do that,” the sec­re­tary said, not­ing that the coun­try has devel­oped a “very good capa­bil­i­ty” in its own nation­al defense.

“We’ve tak­en out of there, right now, about 100,000 troops,” he said, “And yet the lev­el of vio­lence has remained rel­a­tive­ly low.” That, he added, reflects Iraqi forces’ increas­ing capa­bil­i­ty to respond to secu­ri­ty threats with­in their bor­ders.

Iraq’s recent­ly announced plan to pur­chase 18 F‑16 fight­er jets from the Unit­ed States will build that nation’s air capa­bil­i­ty, Panet­ta said. “We will work with them to try to ensure they have the capa­bil­i­ty and train­ing … to use [them] to pro­tect their own air space,” he added.

When the with­draw­al of U.S. com­bat forces from Iraq is com­plete, Panet­ta said, “then I think we begin a process of nego­ti­at­ing … what will be the nature of that rela­tion­ship — what kind of train­ing do they need, what kind of secu­ri­ty needs do they [have], and how can we pro­vide it?”

The ques­tion for the future U.S.-Iraq rela­tion­ship is “not nec­es­sar­i­ly what we want, but what the Iraqis want … to be able to pro­vide for their secu­ri­ty,” he added.

Panet­ta will land in Indone­sia tomor­row evening local time, tomor­row morn­ing in Wash­ing­ton. His week­long trip to Asia also includes vis­its to Japan and South Korea.

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