By Tech. Sgt. Sean P. Houlihan, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 3, 2007 – The nation's second-highest-ranking military officer said he is cautiously optimistic about the new approach to Iraq after a three-day visit there that ended yesterday. "It is clear that most of the senior officials (from the) coalition, Iraq and United States I talked with during my time in Baghdad are positive about the security plan as they see it," said Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, during an interview aboard an Air Force C-17 aircraft.
"You will see from the highest to the lowest levels (that) everyone feels optimistic about the plan and particularly optimistic about the Iraqi leadership involvement with the plan," he said. Giambastiani noted that U.S. military generals told him during Jan. 31 meetings that they felt confident with the leadership provided by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior Iraqi military leaders.
Part of that optimism comes from the Iraqi government's vow to not allow safe havens for terrorists, militias and extremists that have terrorized the streets of Baghdad, the admiral said.
As the new Iraq plan moves forward, Giambastini pointed out the need for a greater sustained economic effort by Iraqis and more U.S. government focus on Iraq's economic progress.
U.S. military efforts, including use of commander's emergency response funds, are an important step, but coalition partners, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other agencies and non-governmental organizations, as well as the Iraqi government, are critical to long-term economic progress, he said.
"I am more cautiously optimistic about seeing progress on the economic front that will affect the day-to-day living for the average citizen than in the past," he said.
Giambastiani said it will take focus on national reconciliation to reduce sectarian violence in the long term to help enable the United States to draw down its forces in Iraq.
During his visit, the admiral met with members from each of the U.S. military services. He visited with members of the 1st Cavalry Division before they left on a convey Jan. 31, ate breakfast with sailors assigned across Baghdad Feb. 1 and met with Marines and airmen stationed in Fallujah Feb. 2.
"When I leave the Pentagon, I always get pumped up because of the high quality of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines I meet," he said. "These are very impressive individuals with tremendous morale. They are very thoughtful (and) mission orientated, their spirits are high and they have a tremendous amount of energy.
"It is privilege to come out here... It is a pleasure to talk with them, work with them and give them coins," he said. "It is always a marvel to watch them. I always feel so much better after talking to them."
Visiting deployed troops is important, Giambastiani said. "That is why (Marine) General (Peter) Pace (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), the service chiefs, senior enlisted leaders, congressional delegations and members of the executive branch all make it a point to come shake servicemembers' hands -- to thank them for the service, professionalism and focus to get the job done."
Giambastiani said getting out in the field also gives him the opportunity to see what items are needed in the field. "It is important that servicemembers realize they have someone like me that they can pass on these requests to, to ensure they have everything they need," he said.
The admiral also traveled to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq to visit and thank soldiers from the Republic of Korea's Camp Zaytun in Irbil.
"The 2,200 Republic of Korean armed forces personnel located in Irbil (are) a model for where we in the United States and coalition would like to be, provided the security situation would allow us," he said. "They are able to spend their time with vocational training, providing medical and health care to local residents, conducting social and athletic events in the Irbil area. This shows you the type of thing military forces are superb at doing; they are not actively engaging terrorist, insurgents and criminals every single day. These military forces bring a tremendous amount of capability."
Giambastiani called it comforting to see the progress taking place and said the Koreans should be commended for their efforts, attitudes and partnership in the coalition. "I could only wish that all of Iraq had the same basic security structure northern Iraq has," he said.
(Tech. Sgt. Sean P. Houlihan is assigned to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Public Affairs Office.)
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