By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 22, 2010 - It is unlikely the U.S. military will resume a combat mission in Iraq after Sept. 1, the top U.S. military commander there said today, citing progress in Iraq's government and security forces.
Army Gen. Ray Odierno appeared on Sunday news talk shows today to discuss the U.S. mission in Iraq, as its combat role officially ends there Sept. 1. It would take a "complete failure" of Iraqi forces, he said, for that mission to change.
"We don't see that happening," Odierno said on CNN's State of the Union. "[Iraqi forces] have been doing so well for so long now that we really believe we're beyond that point.
"They continue to grow," he added. "We continue to see development in their planning, their ability to conduct operations. We continue to see political development, economic development, and all of these combined together will start to develop an atmosphere that means better security."
The final U.S. combat brigade crossed the border into Kuwait last week after more than seven years of fighting. About 50,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to remain there until the end of 2011 to serve in an "advise and assist" role, training Iraqi security forces. U.S. forces peaked at more than 170,000 boots on the ground there during the 2007 troop surge.
Odierno said that President Barack Obama's Iraq strategy is well underway, and that the remaining 50,000 troops will pull out on time.
But U.S. involvement in Iraq beyond 2011 is possible, the general said. Such support would be at the request of the Iraqi government and would likely involve "technical" assistance. It would be similar to agreements the United States has with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he explained.
"It's about [Iraq] technically developing ... protecting their air space, their sea and their land borders," Odierno said on CBS's Face the Nation. "If the government of Iraq requests that from us, we would certainly consider that."
The U.S. military would consider providing combat troops, too, Odierno added, explaining that the United States wants a long-term relationship with Iraq. Obama and his national security advisors would determine the policy if such a request was made, the general said.
"If [Iraq's government] ask us, that they might want us to stay longer, we would certainly consider that," he said. "That's part of our developing a long-term strategic partnership with them. That includes the security aspect."
Terrorism continues to be a threat in Iraq, the general said, but extremist actions involve attempts to disrupt government and political processes. And despite last week's bombing of an Iraqi army recruiting station in Baghdad, security forces are proven and more than capable of protecting their people, he said.
"We've been slowing turning [security] over to [Iraqi forces] for over a year," Odierno said. "For the past four or five months, they've had the lead, and they have been conducting security operations, and they've been able to sustain that at a level that I think is acceptable."
While optimistic about the shift in the U.S. mission in Iraq, Odierno said it could be five years before a U.S. victory there can be assured.
"We've made lots of progress here," he said. "To say whether we've won the war or not, we can see that in three to five years, as we see how Iraq turns out. I think we can call operations a success, but in terms of winning the war, we've certainly seen some great bravery from our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who've served here."