By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
April 19, 2010 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoed Vice President Joe Biden's praise today of Iraqi and U.S. security forces for successfully killing the two top leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq early yesterday.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen noted the operations that led to Abu Ayoub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Bahgdadi's deaths as examples of the progress Iraqi security forces have made since taking the lead in security efforts from U.S. forces a year ago.
"I want to give a great deal of credit to the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi leadership," Mullen told reporters at a news conference here. "We've been working in support of [Iraqi forces] for a significant period of time.
"[Iraqi forces] took the lead, and their leadership in this particular operation has been significant," he added.
The al-Qaida in Iraq terror group, Mullen said, has been focused on bringing back the sectarian violence that overwhelmed the country for much of 2006 and 2007. A string of suicide bombings in Baghdad and Mosul since August have failed to do so, he added.
"The goal of [those bombings] was to generate sectarian violence, not just the immediate violence," the admiral said. "[Al-Qaida] leadership has been very focused on trying to reignite the sectarian violence Iraq was fraught with."
Although al-Qaida suffered a potentially devastating blow, U.S. forces don't count out the extremist group and its capabilities. Iraqi forces, with U.S. assistance, will continue to focus efforts to root out members who continue to threaten the country's security.
"Al-Qaida in Iraq has been greatly diminished for a significant period of time," Mullen said. Their leadership has been killed and it's very, very significant in terms ... of its loss of sustainability. [But] this, by no means, eliminates al-Qaida in Iraq."
Just more than 100,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed to Iraq. By Aug. 31, that footprint will be about 50,000. By the end of 2011, all U.S. forces are scheduled to be completely out of the country.
Mullen was at the University of Pittsburgh here today to speak with veterans and community leaders as part of his "conversations with the country" initiative to get better care and services for veterans.