By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 14, 2007 - The surge of troops in Iraq has produced "solid results" that will enable Iraqis to take up more responsibility for their security, Vice President Richard B. Cheney told troops assembled at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., today. "The United States and our coalition are getting things right in Iraq," Cheney said. President Bush's 30,000-plus increase of troops, he noted, has assisted U.S. and Iraqi security forces to seize the initiative against the insurgents.
MacDill, in Tampa, is home to U.S. Central Command, the military's joint combatant organization that is directing the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. The command's area of responsibility encompasses 26 countries, most of which are in the Middle East.
In late 2006, "the security situation in Baghdad got worse instead of better," Cheney recalled, while insurgents were running rampant in western Iraq. He said al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq escalated their efforts to incite sectarian war across the country when Bush ordered the surge in January.
But now, Cheney said, surge-provided reinforcements recommended by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, have helped to clear out insurgent strongholds in and around Baghdad, while Sunni leaders in western Anbar province have turned against al Qaeda. However, the Iraq situation remains difficult and complex, the vice president acknowledged.
Still, recent congressional testimony provided by Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker indicates "that conditions in Iraq are changing for the better, and we are seizing the initiative from the enemy," Cheney pointed out. Since January, he noted, U.S. and coalition troops have captured or killed an average of 1,500 insurgents each month.
Coalition troops in Iraq "have struck hard against extremists and the supply networks, seized caches of enemy weapons and conducted operations against extremists supported by Iran, a country whose paramilitary organization traffics in lethal material," Cheney said.
Diplomatic and economic resources are rapidly moved into areas cleared of terrorists and militias, "because it is critical that military success be followed quickly by real improvements in the lives of citizens," Cheney said.
More and more Iraqis are actively joining the fight against the insurgents, Cheney said, particularly the tribal sheiks in western Anbar province. Those leaders, he said, "have had enough of the mindless brutality of the al Qaeda" terrorists.
President Bush visited U.S. troops in Anbar province last week, and he told local Iraqi leaders that the pressure would be kept on the enemy, Cheney recalled. It's still dangerous in Anbar, Cheney said, noting that one of those Anbar sheiks who'd met Bush was assassinated yesterday.
"But the fight goes on, and America's support will not waver," Cheney vowed.
Other U.S. and Iraqi units are busy living in and patrolling Baghdad's many neighborhoods, Cheney said, a tactic that's helped make the Iraqi capital city a much safer place than a year ago. These joint U.S.-Iraq patrols have "helped to build confidence in the neighborhoods," the vice president added.
American troops in Iraq this year also have witnessed increased amounts of intelligence provided in the form of information provided by concerned Iraqi citizens, Cheney said.
"This, too, is another sign of the progress we've been able to make inside Iraq," he said. Local Iraqis perceive that America is committed to its mission in Iraq, he added.
"The locals have begun to see that America's commitment is real, and that it is lasting," the vice president said. "They've begun to see the United States as a nation that follows through on a pledge and that the president of the United States keeps his word."
Referencing President Bush's speech to the nation last night, Cheney noted that Iraq's national leaders "are getting some things done." This, he said, includes passage of a budget, agreement on sharing of oil revenues, and an agreement to enable Sunnis – and even some former Baathists – into the military and civilian programs.
"And, we expect Iraq's national government to press much harder in the work of national reconciliation, to match the kind of cooperation now taking place at local and provincial levels," Cheney said.
Meanwhile, the United States will continue efforts to train up Iraqi security forces, "so that overtime Iraqis can take the lead in protecting their people," he said. Increased cooperation from Iraqi citizens has enabled improved Iraqi security forces to maintain peace in many areas cleared of insurgents, the vice president said.
"General Petraeus believes we've reached the point where we can expect the same level of security with fewer American forces in some parts of Iraq," Cheney said. And, if the improved security situation continues, he said, a 2,200-member contingent of Marines leaving Anbar province in two weeks won't need to be replaced by fresh U.S. troops.
Petraeus also predicts the withdrawal of a full Army brigade of some 3,500 soldiers by the end of this year, if the improved security situation in Iraq continues, Cheney said. And it's possible, Petraeus said, that U.S. troop levels in Iraq could decrease from 20 combat brigades to 15 by July next year, Cheney told the servicemembers at MacDill.
In December, U.S. forces "will begin to transfer responsibility to Iraqi forces in a manner that's designed to preserve security and maintain the upper hand over the enemy," Cheney said. "As advances are made against the terrorists and civil society grows stronger, the Iraqis will have more responsibility for their security and our mission in the country will evolve."
In the future, U.S. forces in Iraq will transition from leading anti-terrorist missions to just observing Iraqi forces in action, Cheney predicted.
"Further drawdowns in our military presence will depend on conditions inside the country and on the recommendations of our people in the field, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker," Cheney said.
President Bush makes military decisions regarding Iraq solely based on the national interest, "and nothing else," Cheney said.