By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 9, 2009 - The United States must provide adequate security forces to ensure Iraq's national elections proceed as smoothly as recent provincial elections there, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said today. A day after U.S. officials announced they will withdraw 12,000 soldiers within six months, Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, expressed confidence there will be an adequate force to help provide security for the national elections slated for January.
"We absolutely have to make sure that we have the adequate force available to provide that same degree of security that we saw at the end of January for the provincial elections," said Austin, who also serves as the commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, N.C.
Eleven attacks occurred in provincial elections that took place in January, with no attacks in Baghdad. These figures signal a vast reduction from the more than 300 attacks on election day in 2005, Austin said.
The general attributed the drop-off in violence to what he called "joint synchronized operations" between U.S. forces and their Iraqi counterparts.
"The security that was provided for the provincial elections was just absolutely impressive. And that was based upon the great work of our Iraqi security force partners and the enablers that we provided them," he said, adding that Iraqis performed most of the work.
Preparation for the upcoming national election round is among several goals Austin cited for the joint forces. U.S. troops will continue partnering with Iraqi security forces and assisting in developing Iraqi combat enablers, and will maintain the fight against al-Qaida and associated movements in northern Iraq, he added.
"I remain very optimistic about the future of Iraq. Much progress has been achieved, and much more progress will be achieved in the next year," he said.
Providing an assessment of Iraqi security forces' quality, Austin said the forces have gained confidence in the past year and continue to improve their capabilities with each operation.
Austin said Iraqis need to complete the buildup of their combat enablers, and to improve their capabilities in combat engineering, battlefield medicine, logistics and indirect fire.
"I am confident they will continue to improve," he said. "We are committed to expanding side by side with them, working with them as partners on a daily basis, and helping to continue to teach, coach and mentor where appropriate.
"But I think the future remains bright for the Iraqi security forces," he said.