American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took time on a multicountry USO holiday tour last week to thank Kuwaiti officials for that nation’s critical help to U.S. Forces Iraq over the past eight years and now, as the mission is ending.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey met Dec. 14 with Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber, Prime Minister Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Matthew H. Tueller, and Dempsey’s counterpart Lt. Gen. Ahmed al-Khalid, Kuwait Armed Forces chief of staff.
Near the border Kuwait shares with Iraq, at a dwindling number of installations -- such as camps Arifjan and Virginia and the Khabari al Awazem border-crossing facility, called K Crossing – U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force troops have taken in hundreds of convoys and thousands of former U.S. Forces Iraq war fighters, collected and processed their vehicles, weapons and equipment, and helped send them home.
The chairman said he thanked “our Kuwaiti partners for helping us accomplish this [U.S. Forces Iraq] retrograde operation, which I’ve heard [Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta] describe as somewhat historic.”
Dempsey also asked Kuwait’s assistance as Iraq begins the hard task of adjusting to its new sovereignty.
“My time in Kuwait would suggest that our Kuwaiti partners are concerned about our work to establish a normal relationship with Iraq because there’s still some mistrust between the two countries that goes back certainly to 1990-1991, but historically far back beyond that,” the chairman said.
“I’m stopping in several of the countries on this trip to assure our other partners that our lack of physical presence in Iraq doesn’t mean we’re taking our eye off of them as a partner,” he added, “or that we’re going to stop trying to help [Iraq] develop responsibly.”
Establishing a U.S. Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, as the United States has in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries, will facilitate U.S. military sales there, the chairman’s spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan told American Forces Press Service.
“The idea,” he added, “is to pull Iraq into the type of normal relationships we have with Kuwait and other countries in the region.”
Dempsey also seeks to get back to a normal level of military engagement with Kuwait.
The nations have been close partners since the 1991 signing of a defense cooperative agreement, Dempsey said, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cut into routine U.S.-Kuwait military-to-military training, exercises and security cooperation.
Under provisions of the 1991 defense agreement, the chairman added, “we are taking some of the forces that were in Iraq and repositioning them in Kuwait for a period of time.”
The hope is, Lapan said, “that we will get to the point where the relationship with Iraq is similar to those we have with Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar -- all the countries in the region where we have strong military-to-military relations.”