By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 26, 2007 - Any transition of security responsibility from coalition forces to Iraqi security forces must be done deliberately and in a way that ensures the successes gained so far will not be lost, one of the top U.S. commanders in Iraq said today. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that commanders on the ground know the U.S. troop surge is temporary, and will have a plan in place when the time comes to transition to Iraqi forces and reduce the number of U.S. troops in the country.
"The Iraqi security forces are making progress every single day," Odierno said. "They are getting better; they're standing and fighting. We're seeing some progress, but we need to still give them more time to do this."
Odierno said he has provided his recommendations about force levels to Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, who is due to provide a report to President Bush and Congress in September on the progress of the troop surge. He said he and his troops are focused on operations on the ground in Iraq, where the coalition has made some real successes against al Qaeda.
"We have moved them out of all their safe havens; they are now on the run," Odierno said. "We are in pursuit of al Qaeda all around Iraq."
Local governance in Iraq is also progressing, with Sunnis coming forward to join the government, Odierno said. He acknowledged that the Iraqi security force leadership is better in some places than others, but they are all coming along.
"We just can't tomorrow say we're gong to turn everything in Iraq over to the Iraqi security forces," he said. "We must do it slowly over an extended period of time, so we do not lose the security that we've gained here."
Turning to the U.S. troops, Odierno acknowledged that the 15-month tours the Army is serving are long and cause stress on soldiers and families. However, he said, morale is high among all the troops in Iraq, and the Army has already exceeded its reenlistment goals for fiscal year 2007.
"That's a good indicator that morale here is pretty good." Odierno said. "They understand what they're doing, they understand why they're doing it, and they want to accomplish the mission and they want to be successful."