Indiana National Guard Soldiers with A Troop 2-152 Cavalry Squadron, 219th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade begin their mission as the sun sets. (U.S. Army photo)
WASHINGTON (October 12, 2011) — U.S. forces are “completely on track” to make a total military withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year, even while U.S. and Iraqi officials discuss the possibility of some staying longer, U.S. Forces Iraq’s spokesman and director of strategic effects said today.
U.S. forces “have met all our obligations” in Iraq, and are repositioning troops and equipment in line with the 2008 bilateral agreement that says the U.S. military mission there will end Dec. 31, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan said during a briefing for Pentagon reporters delivered from Baghdad.
U.S. Forces Iraq has redeployed 1.6 million pieces of equipment, Buchanan said, with 800,000 left to go. Just last week, he said, 13,900 trucks in 399 convoys moved equipment, fuel and food in and out of Iraq. The military had 505 bases in Iraq in 2008, and now is down to 23, he said.
U.S. Forces Iraq has roughly 43,500 troops in the country – down about 100,000 from January 2009 – and has maintained roughly that number since Operation New Dawn began in September 2010 to allow for flexibility in the mission, Buchanan said. Cutting too many troops too early would have significantly limited the military’s New Dawn mission to advise, train and assist Iraqi security forces, and “to deal with the unknown,” he said.
As part of the plan for a long-term partnership with Iraq, the military has transitioned most ongoing support for Iraq to the State Department, including opening State’s Office of International Security, which employs about 200 military and civilian workers who oversee foreign military sales, Buchanan said.
Discussions between U.S. and Iraqi officials to leave some U.S. military in Iraq beyond Dec. 31 are ongoing, the general said, adding that there is some question of what their role would be. Asked about an ongoing discussion of legal protections for any troops that stay, he said “any U.S. service members we have serving in Iraq must retain the same legal protections” they have now. Meanwhile, several nations, including Italy, continue to take part in a NATO mission in Iraq to professionalize the country’s military and police forces, Buchanan said.
Noting several explosions in Iraq today, the general acknowledged that “Iraq still is a dangerous place.” Asked about the historically volatile Anbar province, Buchanan said “al-Qaida has reared its head a number of times” there recently. “They’ve never changed their tactics of wanting to drive a wedge between the Iraqi people and the government,” he added.
“What is different now is that people here seem universally determined not to go back to sectarian violence,” he said. “They’re determined to take on these enemies as terrorists. Unlike in the past, they are universally hated and isolated.”
Iraqis don’t yet have the security they need, Buchanan said, but it is greatly improved. Attacks now average 14 per day nationwide, down from 145 per day in 2007, he said.
The sacrifices of Americans and Iraqis since U.S. operations began in Iraq in 2003 have led to the evolving democracy there today, Buchanan said. While citizens of surrounding countries fought to have some say in their governments in the “Arab Spring” uprisings last spring and summer, Iraqis protested for better government services.
“In other places, people didn’t have a choice about their future,” he said. “That’s not true in Iraq, and they recognize that.”