Staff Sgt. Richard Helm scans the road from the gunner’s hatch of his vehicle while on a patrol in Al Buaytha, south of Baghdad. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the drawdown of American combat brigades from Iraq may proceed at a slightly quicker pace.
INCIRLIK, Turkey (July 29, 2009) – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said conditions in Iraq have improved to the extent that the U.S. combat brigade drawdown from the country may accelerate.
“I think there is at least a chance of a modest acceleration” in the drawdown schedule, Gates said during a news roundtable today.
Gates visited Iraq yesterday and today, and was pleased with the progress being made. As part of the U.S.-Iraqi agreement signed in December, American forces turned over responsibility for security inside all Iraqi cities and villages to Iraqi security forces by June 30.
Gates said the process has gone remarkably well. Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said yesterday that all trends are positive, and that Iraqi security forces have shouldered the security burden and run with it.
The modest acceleration may mean one additional U.S. brigade comes out before the Iraqi elections in January. Fourteen U.S. brigades are in Iraq. Plans had called for two to redeploy without being replaced by the end of the year. The acceleration may mean a third can return home without being replaced. This means by the end of the year, only 11 American brigades would be in Iraq.
Any drawdown, Gates said, depends on continued security progress. Ultimately, the redeployment decision will be made only after Odierno’s advice, the secretary said, noting that many things still can go wrong. Arab-Kurd tensions, for example, could derail the progress made in Iraq.
“I don’t want to put the general of the spot, because it really depends on circumstances that may or may not happen,” Gates said. “But I mention it only because I think it is an indicator of his view that things are going pretty well following June 30.”