April 21, 2010 —
An Iraqi Army officer stands in formation. Iraqi security forces are making great strides as combat operations in Iraq wind down.
WASHINGTON (April 21, 2010) – The past week was a very good one for security progress in Iraq, with two al-Qaida leaders being killed in an Iraqi-led operation, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday.
And Iraqi forces followed up their successes by arresting another senior al-Qaida leader in northern Iraq, Morrell noted at a Pentagon news conference.
“This is not a good time … to be a leader of al-Qaida in Iraq,” Morrell said. “There’s not a lot of longevity in those jobs.”
Although U.S. forces partnered with Iraqi forces for the operations, Morrell stressed, Iraqi security forces found and exploited the intelligence that made them possible and were in the lead of both operations.
“We have capabilities that we can bring to bear that they have not yet developed fully,” he said. “It was a great joint mission that brought down three people who were responsible for the deaths of scores and scores of innocent Iraqis, not to mention U.S. and coalition forces.”
As America’s involvement in Iraq draws to an end – U.S. combat units will be out of the country by the end of August – the United States is determined not to make the same mistakes made in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Morrell said.
In August, Operation Iraqi Freedom ends and Operation New Dawn begins, with U.S. forces in “advise and assist” roles.
All U.S. forces will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Supplemental funding for fiscal 2010 calls for $1 billion for Iraqi security forces. That money would go to expedite building capabilities in Iraqi security forces. The current Iraqi budgeting process probably doesn’t have the means to execute spending on the things they need to invest in as quickly as the United States can do it by spending this money, Morrell explained.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fully supports this spending, Morrell told reporters.
“I think he is very leery of repeating the final scene in ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’” he said, referring to a movie that depicted the unsuccessful efforts of a Texas congressman to get his colleagues to invest a few million dollars in Afghanistan after Congress invested billions in paramilitary forces that drove the Soviet Union out of the country.
“It was a case of us being penny wise and pound foolish,” Morrell said. “And the secretary believes we've been paying the price ever since. We turned our backs on Afghanistan. We turned our backs on Pakistan. Al-Qaida … and other terrorists were able to take root there, and obviously we were struck on 9/11.”
The United States has lost more than 4,400 servicemembers in Iraq, with more than 32,000 others wounded. American taxpayers spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the country.
“[Gates] believes that we need to spend the money necessary to finish this job – to make sure our drawdown is successful and the Iraqis have the capabilities they need to assume responsibility for more and more of the security component,” Morrell said.