It is unlikely the U.S. military will resume combat missions in Iraq after Sept. 1, according to the top U.S. military commander.
Army Gen. Ray Odierno appeared on Sunday news talk shows to talk about the U.S. mission in Iraq, as its combat role officially ends there Sept. 1. He said it would take a “complete failure” of Iraqi forces for that mission to change, something he said he won’t see happening.
“[Iraqi forces] have been doing so well for so long now that we really believe we’re beyond that point,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “They continue to grow. 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.
Odierno said President Barack Obama’s Iraq strategy is well underway, and the remaining 50,000 troops will drawdown on time.
However, U.S. involvement in Iraq beyond 2011 is possible, the general said. That kind of 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.”
Oderino added the U.S. military would consider providing combat troops, because the United States wants a long-term relationship with Iraq. Obama and his national-security advisers 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.”
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. But to see whether the United States has won the war would require waiting three to five years as Iraq makes progress, he said.
“[B]ut in terms of winning the war, we’ve certainly seen some great bravery from our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who’ve served here,” the general said.