By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2009 - It is necessary and right that Iraqi soldiers and police assume security responsibilities for their people, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq said in New York City yesterday. Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno was in Manhattan to attend the USO's 48th Annual Armed Forces Gala and Gold Medal Dinner, where he was interviewed by "Fox and Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade.
Kilmeade asked Odierno if it was too soon to transfer security responsibilities to Iraqi soldiers and police, given a recent spate of insurgent violence that has roiled Iraq.
"It's tough always to see these Iraqi civilians being killed," Odierno said. "But I would tell you it is the right time to turn over this [security] responsibility." Multiple terrorist bombings targeting Iraqi government buildings on Dec. 8 killed 127 people and wounded some 500. Those bombings followed similar attacks in October and August.
U.S. combat forces withdrew from Iraqi municipalities and villages on June 30, turning over security duties to Iraqi soldiers and police.
Odierno told Kilmeade it's imperative that the Iraqis become responsible for their own security. U.S. forces are slated to depart Iraq no later than Dec. 31, 2011.
"We have to allow them to build up the capacity and capability to do this once we leave," he said. "And, so we're doing that very carefully. We're doing it deliberately; we're thinning our lines slowly, and they're slowly taking on more and more responsibility."
About 120,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. It's expected those numbers will be reduced after the Iraqi parliamentary elections, now set for March 7. The Iraqi government decided on Dec. 8 to reset the parliamentary voting day from the original Jan. 16 date.
Odierno led the U.S. troops involved in the successful 2007 surge of forces into Iraq under the leadership of then-Multinational Force Iraq chief Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. Now the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Odierno told Kilmeade that he's buoyed by the support he receives from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
"I've had several conversations with them," he said. "And I feel that they are very supportive in what we're trying to achieve in Iraq. They understand that we have an opportunity."
Obama "is very pleased with how things continue to go in Iraq," Odierno said.
Overall violence in Iraq has reached its lowest point since the war started in 2003. Now, Obama "wants to see Iraq come forward," Odierno said, noting Iraq "can be a long-term strategic partner to the United States and help provide more stability in the Middle East."
The general also praised Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for his steady hand at the Pentagon's helm. Gates' tenure as defense secretary has spanned two administrations since he replaced former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December 2006.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also has served across two administrations, having been appointed JCS chairman in October 2007. The Pentagon's top civilian and military leaders, Odierno said, provide experience and continuity amid the challenges of wartime.
"Having Secretary Gates stay and Admiral Mullen being in place really has made it a smooth transition for me as one of the wartime commanders," Odierno said.