By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, April 22, 2011 – All American troops will be out of Iraq at the end of the year in accordance with the security agreement signed in 2008, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
“There are no plans –- nor has there been any request from the Iraqi government –- for any residual U.S. force presence here after December,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said during a news conference in the Marine Corps Maj. Megan McClung Memorial TV Studio at the Al Faw Palace complex.
Roughly 47,000 American service members are in Iraq now. Since signing the agreement, the United States has already withdrawn more than 100,000 personnel -- at the height of the surge, the U.S. military had about 170,000 personnel in Iraq.
Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, has a plan in place to complete the withdrawal on time, Mullen said. “There are no official discussions with respect to any extended presence of United States forces,” the chairman added.
Though Iraqi security forces have the capability to defend their country, Mullen said, they still have vulnerabilities that will not be closed by the end of the year. The Iraqi air force, which has no fighter jets, will not be up to the task of defending its airspace, he noted. Intelligence capabilities and command and control capabilities need to be filled out, he added, and sustainment, maintenance and logistics capabilities need to be much more robust.
“For our part, the United States military will remain committed to helping Iraqi security forces improve their readiness in these areas,” Mullen said. “We will continue to help our State Department, as they now assume the mantle of leadership in this relationship.”
Moving troops, their equipment and other military materiel out of Iraq will be difficult. U.S. Forces Iraq personnel said that more than 2 million separate items need to be packaged and shipped in the next few months. This does not include items the U.S. military will turn over to the Iraqis.
“I think later this summer, we will see the pace and scope of the drawdown reach its most aggressive level,” Mullen said.
In his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last night, Mullen reaffirmed the U.S. desire for a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq.
“That partnership won’t end with our departure, but it certainly must begin with keeping our promises,” the admiral said. “Leaders of both the United States and Iraq are committed to the partnership, and it is up to the political leaders of both sides to determine what that means.” If Iraq wants to keep some American forces in the country to shore up its military vulnerabilities, the U.S. government would welcome the discussion, the chairman said.
“It is up to the government of Iraq to reach out, to initiate a dialogue to look at the future agreement possibilities and to work out the specifics of what that might be,” he said. “But it needs to start soon -- very soon -- should there be any chance of avoiding irrevocable logistics and operational decisions we must make in coming weeks. Time is running short for any negotiations to occur.”
Some decisions, Mullen added, would have to be made in the next few weeks.