US troops unlikely to resume combat duties in Iraq

Top US commander says Iraq forces can handle internal security, save Iraqis.

Updated: Aug 23, 2010, 10:50 AM IST

Washington: It would take "a complete failure" of the Iraqi security forces for the US to resume combat operations there, the top American commander in Iraq said as the final US fighting forces prepared to leave the country.

With a major military milestone in sight, Gen Ray Odierno said in interviews broadcast on Sunday that any resumption of combat duties by American forces is unlikely.

"We don`t see that happening," Odierno said. The Iraqi security forces have been doing "so well for so long now that we really believe we`re beyond that point”.

President Barack Obama plans a major speech on Iraq after his return to Washington, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity on Sunday because details were being finalised.

The speech will come shortly after Obama returns to the White House on August 29 from his Martha`s Vineyard vacation.

About 50,000 US troops will remain in the country until the end of 2011 to serve as a training and assistance force, a dramatic drawdown from the peak of more than 170,000 during the surge of American forces in 2007.

Obama will face a delicate balancing act in his speech between welcoming signs of progress and bringing an end to the seven-year-old war without prematurely declaring the mission accomplished, as former president George W Bush once did.

US involvement in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, Odierno said, probably would involve assisting the Iraqis secure their airspace and borders.

While Iraq forces can handle internal security and protect Iraqis, Odierno said he believes military commanders want to have the US involved beyond 2011 to help Iraqis acquire the required equipment, training and technical capabilities.

He said Iraq`s security forces have matured to the point where they will be ready to shoulder enough of the burden to permit the remaining 50,000 soldiers to go home at the end of next year.

If the Iraqis asked that American troops remain in the country after 2011, Odierno said US officials would consider it, but that would be a policy decision made by the President and his national security advisers.

Odierno`s assessment, while optimistic, also acknowledges the difficult road ahead for the Iraqis as they take control of their own security, even as political divisions threaten the formation of the fledgling democracy.

Bureau Report