By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2010 - With the last full brigade of combat troops now out of Iraq and another 6,000 U.S. forces to leave by the month's end, the mission in Iraq continues with the transition to stability operations, Army Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, spokesman for U.S. Forces Iraq, told reporters today.
"Our mission still continues," Lanza said this morning on the CBS "Early Show." "We're going to transition from combat operations to stability operations, and we're doing that as we're drawing down our forces right now to 50,000 by 1 September."
The final convoy of combat troops, members of the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade, crossed into Kuwait before dawn today.
"With that brigade that just left, we're roughly a little under 56,000 [troops]," Lanza said. That number, he said, will steadily decrease within the next 12 days to meet President Barack Obama's mandate.
"And on 1 September, we'll transition to stability operations as part of New Dawn," Lanza added. The 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq will conduct three different missions under Operation New Dawn, Lanza explained last night on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show."
"We'll still continue to partner to support counterterrorism operations for the Iraqi security forces," he said. "We will continue to support provincial reconstruction teams that work for the State Department with their job to build civil capacity and develop civil institutions and still support the United Nations and nongovernmental officials."
In addition, U.S. forces will continue to help the Iraqi security forces build capability and capacity until the U.S. mission in Iraq ends in December 2011.
"We'll continue to train, coordinate, advise and assist them in accordance with the security agreement," Lanza said.
Lanza expressed confidence in the Iraqi security forces, now numbering more than 660,000, and pointed to examples of their success. "They have shown they can secure the country for the elections. They have shown they can secure the country for major religious holidays," he told CBS.
"More importantly, they've shown that they have the will, the professionalism and the ethos to continue to improve," he said. "So we're very comfortable with the improvement they're making, the capabilities they're making and the type of force they're turning into."
Lanza told CBS he's also impressed that Iraqi security forces have remained apolitical while the Iraqi government undergoes its transition.
"They have stayed on their mission," he said. "They have still conducted operations. And the population continues to have trust and confidence in their ability to provide internal security in the country."
This growing capability, he said, "has enabled us to conduct our responsible drawdown."
Lanza expressed hope the Iraqi government gets seated soon, mitigating recent incidents of violence.
"I would still say there are challenges here. I will still say there is violence that will continue," he told MSNBC. "The important thing right now, I think everyone knows, is to get the government seated as quickly as possible."
As Operation Iraqi Freedom winds down and Operation New Dawn prepares to launch Sept. 1, Lanza said the continuing U.S. mission in Iraq is enabling Iraq to move forward.
"There's a chance here for Iraq, in terms of where they are right now, to move forward, not only in this region, but also to help the people," he said. "And I think what we've done here is we've given them an opportunity to do that."