The commander of coalition forces in northern Iraq says the reported conclusions of the high-level Iraq Study Group in Washington reflect what his troops are already doing, and also reflect the goals already set for continuing to transfer security responsibility to Iraqi forces. Congress created the study group to assess the situation in Iraq and make recommendations to lawmakers and the Bush administration. The commander spoke via satellite from Tikrit, Iraq to reporters at the Pentagon, and VOA's Al Pessin reports.
According to news reports based on leaks from the Iraq Study Group, its report next week will call for U.S. combat troops to end their direct involvement in fighting in Iraq by early in 2008, if conditions in the country permit.
Speaking from northern Iraq Friday, Major General Benjamin Mixon said U.S. troops in his area are already working toward that goal.
"I think it certainly reflects what we're doing now, and I can only speak to Multi-national Division North, but I can certainly see great a opportunity to reduce the number of combat forces on the ground in Multi-national Division North, and turn more responsibility over to Iraqi security forces," he said.
General Mixon says he expects to turn over control of all the Iraqi forces in his area to the Iraqi defense ministry by next March, as planned.
He says the Iraqi forces are improving in capability every day, and he says that could mean fewer U.S. combat troops in northern Iraq well before 2008, perhaps by next summer.
"There'll be decisions made, I'm sure above my level, where we may see reductions in the numbers of forces that are on the ground, and certainly an increase in those that are in a role of advising the Iraqi security forces," he said.
General Mixon says he is already increasing the number of U.S. troops working directly with Iraqi units as trainers and advisers, and he expects that trend to continue.
That is reported to be another key recommendation of the Iraq Study Group. Its report is to be made public next Wednesday.
The general says although criminal, insurgent and sectarian violence continues in four of the six northern provinces for which he is responsible, the situation is under control enough that he is not concerned about sending some of his U.S. combat troops to help secure Baghdad.
But General Mixon says his troops will continue to be active in the fight, focusing particularly on insurgents.
He said, "We will take less of an active combat role but we will continue to target al-Qaida operatives that are operating within the area and working with our Iraqi security forces, targeting those elements that are emplacing improvised explosive devices and conducting attacks against the Iraqi populace."
" Look, these are our allies here in this fight, and we're going to stand by them throughout this transition period," he added.
General Mixon says as the Iraqi military takes control of more areas and operates more independently, it will still have large numbers of U.S. trainers, and he will continue to coordinate with its leaders and to conduct joint operations as necessary.