By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 1, 2011 – If Iraq wants American forces to remain to train and assist Iraqi security forces after Dec. 31, Iraqi leaders need to make the request soon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
“The point is we’re at a deadline, and we need an answer,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said to reporters traveling with him.
Iraqi leaders understand their security forces do not have all the capabilities needed to defend the country from insurgents or from outside nations, Mullen said, and they need to make a decision about accepting further help from U.S. forces. Under a security agreement between Iraq and the United States, all U.S. troops are to be out of the country by Dec. 31.
Mullen will meet with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, and with service members with the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Advise and Assist Brigade here. He then will travel to Baghdad, where he is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talibani.
The chairman said it has been about a year since he visited Mosul.
“I want to have discussions about how it is going in the north,” he said aboard his plane en route here. “I get assessments all the time, but with the transition, we’re making substantial changes there on how we’re doing assisting and advising. I’m very anxious to understand from a ground perspective what’s going on.”
More broadly, Mullen added, he also wants to meet the American leaders and see how engagement with Iraqi counterparts is going and what the future holds.
“It’s pretty clear that we’ve said to the Iraqi leadership that now’s the time -- we have to know [if they are going to request a continuing U.S. presence],” he said. Roughly 48,000 U.S. personnel are working to train, advise and assist Iraqi army and police units. The logistics needed to get that number of personnel out by the deadline along with millions of pieces of equipment means the Iraqis need to make the decision soon, the chairman explained.
From the American standpoint, an Iraqi request would start negotiations. Any U.S. decision would have to consider the security environment in the country, what capabilities the Iraqis need and what the legal status of American forces would be, as well as the ability to protect U.S. service members. These considerations add to the urgency for a decision.
“The major issues in Iraq are political,” Mullen said. “They have to get together, and that doesn’t happen overnight.”
June was a bad month for U.S. personnel in Iraq, with 15 killed, mostly by Iranian-supplied weapons that include roadside bombs designed to pierce armored vehicles and improvised rocket-assisted munitions.
“You’ve seen in the last three weeks a dramatic reduction in attacks on U.S. personnel,” Mullen said. “The key to me is that reduction has to be sustained. There are several pieces to this reduction which include our operations, the [Iraqi security forces] operations and operations with them or in support of them, and the political piece of this, which has been very strongly expressed. There very clearly have been operations, and there are ongoing operations.”
Iran remains a problem for Iraqi and American forces in the country. U.S. officials traced explosives killing American forces in June directly to Iran.
“It’s clear from the U.S. perspective that whatever Iraq’s decision, there’s a commitment on the part of the United States to a long-term commitment to sustain a stable, growing, healthy Iraq,” the chairman said.