Friday, January 18, 2008


In Iraq for Five to Ten Years

US sees slow, steady Iraq troop decline

By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Thu Jan 17, 5:38 PM ET

WASHINGTON - As security conditions improve in Iraq, the U.S. should be able to reduce forces at a slow but consistent pace beyond this summer, but air support and ground troops likely will be needed for five to 10 years, a top military commander said Thursday.

Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, also said he believes Iraqi forces will be able to take over security in their country much quicker than they have suggested.

"What we don't want to do is suddenly pull out a whole bunch of U.S. forces and suddenly turn things over to ... the Iraqi security forces," said Odierno, who will finish his tour in Iraq next month and return to Fort Hood, Texas.

"I would like to see it done very slowly over time. And I think if we do that, we'll find ourselves being more successful and we'll be able to have a consistent reduction of our forces over time."

Odierno, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military leaders have been loath to predict troop reductions beyond this summer, when the number of U.S. brigades in Iraq will drop to 15. There were 20 brigades there for the last six months of 2007, but one has left and the other four will leave by July. That would bring U.S. troop totals down to about 130,000.

On Thursday, Gates said he still hopes that the "pace of the drawdowns in the first half of the year will continue in the second half of the year." But he stressed that it depends on the evaluation of conditions there by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Asked about Gates' expressed hope, Odierno said he first wants to see the effects of the reduction of forces now under way. "We're now at 19 brigades — going to 18, 17, 16, 15. I feel comfortable that we'll be able to maintain the security, but I would like to make sure that that works," he said.

Odierno also cited Mosul as an example of how the U.S. will gradually take on more of an oversight and support role, as Iraqi forces take the lead.

"I see what we're doing in Mosul as a model for the future," he said. "When we reduce our forces over time and the Iraqis take primacy for security, we will be here to assist them when they need it."

Mosul has seen persistent problems with violence, as insurgents driven out of Baghdad and its surrounding neighborhoods have fled north. And while the totals have not been determined, Odierno said the U.S. may add some combat power there, and over time would maintain enough troops to reinforce the Iraqis.

Showing a series of charts, Odierno also mapped out dramatic declines in attacks, casualties and the level of violence across the country, but particularly around Baghdad. And he showed two maps that depicted a significant decline in al-Qaida strongholds between December 2006 and one year later.

Odierno disagreed with Iraqi contentions that they won't be able to take over responsibility for internal security until 2012, or fully defend their borders until at least 2018.

"I would just say at the levels we're supporting them now, I do not see that going that far at all. I mean, I see it happening much quicker," he said. He added that as the Iraqis assume more control, he does not see a need to increase the number of U.S. troops to provide logistical and other support for the Iraqis.

Lt. Gen. James Dubik, head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command, told a House panel Thursday that Iraq's security forces are on track to add another 80,000 personnel by the end of the year, putting them well within reach of their goal of more than 600,000.

But he also cautioned that they are far from becoming self-sufficient.

There are "positive signs, indeed, and steps forward, but the truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point," Dubik told the House Armed Services Committee.

Dubik said the Iraqis have used the 2012 and 2018 dates, and repeatedly insist that they need to buy more air and fire support, helicopters and logistics equipment. Those purchases will likely take several years, and training Iraqi soldiers and other personnel on the new equipment will take more time after that, he said.

In advance of an industry summit in Dubai next month, Iraq defense minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi has released a wish list that includes ground vehicles, helicopters, tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers.

Last year, the U.S. spent about $5.5 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, while the Iraqis designated $7.5 billion. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said he expects the Iraqis will devote $9 billion this year to the effort and the U.S. will contribute $3 billion.

Rep. Ike Skelton, the Democratic chairman of the panel, said he is worried that while Iraqi forces get up to speed, U.S. troops will become worn out.

"Security in Iraq has improved over the past year, due to the heroic efforts of our troops. ... But the question now is how do we sustain it?" Skelton asked.


Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty and Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.

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