By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 11, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he'll probably recommend a pause for evaluation and assessment in Iraq before further troop reductions when the last surge brigade leaves in July. Gates spoke following a two-hour meeting with Multinational Force Iraq commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.
"I think the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense," Gates told reporters traveling with him. The secretary did not speculate on how long the pause would be.
Last month, Petraeus recommended a pause in redeployment from Iraq after the surge brigades left Iraq. The first of the five surge brigades left Iraq in December. The second is scheduled to leave by the end of next month, then one more will go home each month through July. This will leave 15 brigade combat teams – or their equivalents – in Iraq.
Petraeus said he wanted to have a pause to reassess the conditions on the ground and to evaluate how the Iraqis are picking up the security mission.
Gates has said repeatedly that conditions on the ground will dictate how fast further brigades will redeploy. Though he had expressed the hope that more brigades could leave Iraq in August, he said he had been leaning toward a brief pause.
"I had been kind of headed in that direction as well," he said. "One of the keys is how long is that period and then what happens after that. All of that is still to be determined, and then ultimately decided by the president."
Gates arrived in Baghdad last night and immediately went to a working dinner with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Gates complimented the Iraqis on the legislative progress they have made and urged them to keep it up.
This morning, the secretary had breakfast with Multinational Corps Iraq sergeants major. He said the sergeants major talked to him about troop morale, the commitment the troops have made and problems that remain.
Following the breakfast, he moved to the Al Faw Palace and presented Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Command Sgt. Maj. Neil L. Ciotola with awards for their service in Iraq. Odierno and Ciotola are the commander and senior enlisted advisor for the Multinational Corps Iraq, and they're wrapping up their 15-month tour this week. Pending Senate confirmation, Odierno is slated to receive his fourth star and to become Army vice chief of staff later this year.
"General Odierno and his team arrived last year in what was considered a grim time in the Iraq mission," Gates said. "Under the guidance of General Petraeus, the corps carried out a strategy that combined classic counterinsurgency principles with approaches that broke new ground in the history of warfighting."
Gates said the corps made impressive gains under Odierno and Ciocola, saying attacks have dropped and the Iraqis have a chance for freedom and prosperity.