By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2012 – Six months after U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq, long-term efforts there by the Defense and State departments have put strategic dividends within reach, the chief of staff to the undersecretary of defense for policy said today.
Peter F. Verga testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s subcommittee on national security, homeland defense and foreign operations, along with Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management.
“DOD has worked closely with Department of State to help ensure a successful transition to the civilian-led presence in Iraq,” Verga told the panel. “That successful transition enables us to concentrate on building a long-term strategic partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Given Iraq's importance, situated strategically in the Middle East, Verga noted, it is profoundly in the U.S. national interest “that Iraq emerge as a strategic partner with the United States; a sovereign, stable, self-reliant nation; and a positive force for moderation and stability in the region.”
In November 2008, the U.S. and Iraqi governments agreed that the United States would withdraw its troops by the end of 2011, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the subcommittee’s chairman, said. Today, 275 remaining military personnel work under the chief-of-mission authority of the State Department’s Office of Security Cooperation, and the State Department’s footprint there has expanded, he added.
Some 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors in Iraq include 7,000 private security contractors to guard facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq, Chaffetz said.
Verga said the Defense Department continues to work with the State Department on assignment of DOD personnel, extensions of equipment loans and contracting assistance.
“The focus is now on cementing a normalized presence in Iraq with Department of State in the lead,” he told the panel. “That means building on years of working with the Iraqis to create a lasting, long-term security relationship, including a robust foreign military sales program.” The department’s $11.6 billion foreign military sales program with Iraq is the fourth-largest in the region and the ninth-largest in the world, he said.
Iraq has requested the sale of 36 F-16 fighter jets and associated training at a value of about $6 billion, Verga added, “and this case stands out as the cornerstone of the long-term U.S.-Iraq strategic relationship.”
Iraq has deposited about $2.5 billion toward the sale, and deliveries of the first aircraft are scheduled in September 2014, he said. Iraq’s “commitment to this program is a testimony to the future of the U.S.-Iraq partnership, Verga added.
Kennedy said the U.S. strategic goal continues to be a united, unified, democratic and stable Iraq.
“The State Department has always planned to align our presence in Iraq with other comparable U.S. missions, but transition planning called for a robust structure that could handle multiple situations,” he added. “Now that we have successfully transitioned, we are methodically streamlining our operations in a phased approach, which we call the glide path.”
State Department planning for Iraq began in late 2009 with an interdisciplinary team from State, DOD and the U.S. Agency for International Development, he added. And in October 2011, the embassy and its consulates were fully operational and mission-capable.
“We have continued to complete our facilities, and despite the challenging environment, we have been and will continue to carry out our diplomatic mission,” Kennedy said. “Task orders for static and movement security were awarded under the worldwide protective services contract for all State Department sites.”
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security performs increased oversight to ensure the professionalism of security contractor personnel, he added, and the State Department has asked that DOD continue to provide various services through 2013 under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, called LOGCAP, and through the Defense Logistics Agency.
“Our partnership with the Department of Defense remains highly effective,” Kennedy said. “A post-transition working group meets twice a month to discuss life support [and] we are working on local sourcing of more food and fuel.”
The State Department plans to award a support contract to replace LOGCAP by the end of 2013. Under another contract, aviation operations support all U.S. government elements in Iraq using five dedicated fixed-wing aircraft and 31 helicopters.
“Missions include medical evacuation, movement of security support, personnel, transportation of personnel within Iraq and movement of personnel into and out of Iraq,” he said. “We plan to downsize that program under the glide path.”
In terms of lessons learned in Iraq that might apply to Afghanistan at some future point, Verga and Kennedy both said planning is critical.
“From our perspective,” Verga said, “the most important lesson that we're learning is the requirement for both advanced planning and, essentially, a continuous cooperation and monitoring process as we move through a transitional period.
“We can't drop any of the balls that are going on,” he continued, “and I think it was a good lesson in interagency cooperation and information sharing that made this transition successful.”