Odierno: U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq 'Unlikely' After Sept. 1

Bob Schieffer, CBS News "Face the Nation", spoke with the Commander for U.S. Forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno on the future of Iraq after last U.S. combat brigade left the country.

Odierno: U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq 'Unlikely' After Sept. 1

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, 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."

More:

Odierno: Iran Funding Extremists in Iraq - Voice of America

Odierno: Iraq Troops Fit for Duty - Wall Street Journal

U.S. Troops in Could do Battle, But Very Unlikely - Los Angeles Times

General: Iraqis Will be Ready for U.S. Withdrawal in 2011 - Washington Times

U.S. Could Lend Assistance to Iraq After 2011 - USA Today

U.S. Troops Unlikely to Resume Combat Duties in Iraq - Associated Press

Odierno: U.S. Ready to Resume Iraq Combat Role if Needed - Reuters

U.S. Unlikely to Resume Iraq Combat Role - United Press International

U.S. Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended Barring Disaster - Bloomberg

Odierno: Iraq Failure Could See Combat Role Resume - Agence France-Presse

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I don't recall President Bush ever declaring victory on the deck of an aircraft carrier, nor does his speech indicate that. He did state that US & coalition forces defeated & toppled the Iraqi regime and, yes, he said that while standing in front of a sign that said "mission accomplished". But that mission, to topple the Hussein regime, was accomplished. That so many chose to reinterpret the message and the "mission accomplished" sign is an indication of their own ignorance of military operations.

As for the withdrawl of "combat forces", I'm not sure what the hub-bub is about. As one who is sitting in Ramadi serving as an advisor to Iraqi forces, I can assure you that "kinetic" combat operations by US forces have essentially ceased. The Iraqis are doing the heavy lifting and are being targeted as a result. Despite what some Iraqis, as well as others, may say about the abilities of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), they're not THAT bad and will likely continue to improve.

I was rather impressed with what I saw when I first got here. I was expecting something close to what I dealt with in Afghanistan. Wrong. These guys still need some assistance, but they're no where near as bad bad as what I had been told or thought.

Will ISF have challenges after Dec 2011? Probably. Can they handle it? I think so. Will we be there to assist them should they ask? I hope so. That's what allies do. Think positive.

Now that "victory" had been declared (again!) the ball can be picked and all can go home, except those who can't. As far as I can tell the job is not finished, anymore than when President Bush declared victory from the aircraft carrier. Does this give precedent so that "victory" can be again declared in Afghanistan next year. This has the ominious ring of Viet Nam circa 1972 where victory was declared except it wasn't. Dod or Allah save those who helped the NATO forces because I suspect no one else will.