By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 25, 2010 - The U.S. military footprint in Iraq is down to fewer than 50,000 servicemembers because Iraq's security forces are ready to provide for their nation's security, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
"It wasn't that long ago that there were 170,000 [U.S.] troops in Iraq," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters. "What has dominated is growth and confidence in Iraqi security forces."
U.S. forces are confident in their Iraqi counterparts, as the U.S. military's combat mission there ends and Operation New Dawn begins Sept. 1, he said. Iraqi army and police are more than capable of assuming security responsibilities in their country, he added.
"We're very comfortable in Iraqi security forces that can provide for their security," Mullen said. "They've got some challenges in their future, but they have led in operations now for a significant period of time, and we have confidence they'll be able to meet the threat."
For the past 18 months, U.S. forces have been transitioning security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. The remaining U.S. troops will work in an "advise and assist" role in support of Iraqi forces for the next 16 months.
The U.S. troop reduction doesn't mean the U.S. military's role in Iraq is over, the admiral said, noting that 50,000 "is a lot of troops."
"It's not a small number," he added, "[and] it's a lot of capability. It will continue to have a significant impact."
Mullen said he's confident that the U.S. mission in Iraq will end on schedule Dec. 31, 2011.
"I don't see the role changing," he said. "[U.S. forces] are clearly in support of Iraqi security forces. They've got a very close, integrated relationship with the Iraqi security forces, [and the] support role will continue."
Mullen is here as part of a three-day "Conversation with the Nation" tour across the Midwest. The trip is geared toward helping local community leaders, business leaders and academics hone military veterans' skills and life experience.