By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 27, 2009 - Senior defense and military leaders are comfortable with President Barack Obama's decision to redeploy all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by the end of August next year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. It was important for the president to set a timeline, Gates told the Pentagon press corps via telephone from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The president made his decision after in-depth talks with commanders on the ground and in Washington. The timeline takes into consideration Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno's concern about security during district and sub-district elections scheduled for the summer and another national election at the end of the year.
Odierno wanted to ensure enough U.S. troops remained to help the Iraqis and still allow time to redeploy the combat brigades, Gates said, noting that an earlier drawdown would pose some "significant logistical and security issues."
At the end of August 2010, all U.S. combat forces will be out of Iraq, but this does not mean all forces will leave. Between 35,000 and 50,000 Americans will remain in country to train and mentor the Iraqi forces or track down extremist groups in conjunction with Iraqi forces.
The president will be flexible and reserves the right to make changes, Gates said. "He clearly does not anticipate having to do that," said he added. "He has balanced the risks of staying longer or coming out sooner."
All those involved with the discussion believe U.S. forces will meet the president's timeline, the secretary said.
Under the terms of the U.S.-Iraq status-of-forces agreement, all American forces must be out of the country by the end of 2011. Any U.S. presence in the country after that date would require a new agreement, Gates said.
"My own view is we should be prepared to have some very modest-sized presence for training and helping them with new equipment, and perhaps providing intelligence support and so on, beyond then," he said. "But it's a hypothetical, because no such request has been made and there is no indication there will be."
The August 2010 timetable helps the Iraqis with their planning to take over security responsibilities.
"You saw in the performance of the Iraqi security forces in the provincial elections that they really did a superb job of maintaining security," Gates said.