On a surprise visit to Iraq, Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates told US troops that their mission in Iraq was in its "end game"
while adding that the United States intends to boost its presence in
Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed American troops in Balad,
Iraq, Saturday, telling them that the United States is now in the "end
game" in Iraq, while insisting that their contribution to stability
remains of vital importance, in tandem with the recent decision that
the United States will boost its military presence in Afghanistan.
a town hall meeting with U.S. military personnel, Gates detailed
President-elect Barack Obama's vision for a proposed drawdown,
explaining that it represents a "significant change of mission."
Obama has vowed to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in 16 months and the
recently signed military pact with Iraq calls for a U.S. withdrawal by
Gates calculated broadly that U.S. troops will be "out of
cities and populated areas" by June 30. That date precedes a planned
Iraqi referendum on the security pact in July.
"That's the point
at which we will have turned over all 18 provinces to provincial Iraqi
control," he said, adding that Iraqi forces will gradually shoulder
more and more of the burden of security.
"Our forces will draw
down over time and become less visible," said Gates. "Iraqi security
forces will continue to shoulder more and more of the burden every day.
But despite what you might hear about an increased focus on
Afghanistan, let there be no doubt that your mission and the mission of
all American troops in Iraq remains incredibly important during this
crucial transition period."
However, top US Commander in Iraq,
General Raymond Odierno said on Saturday that some US forces would
remain remain at local security stations, as training and mentoring
teams despite the summer deadline to pull American combat troops from
Gates' visit to Iraq comes just over two weeks
after the Iraqi parliament voted to ratify a new security pact with the
United States, due to go into effect on January 1.
question whether the Iraqis are prepared to take over security and will
they be ready when US troops withdraw from urban areas. Iraqi Defense
Ministry Spokesman Mohammed al-Askari, however, insists that Iraqi
forces are "ready to take control or we wouldn't have signed the
Urgent requests from commanders in Afghanistan to send more troops have added to the pressure to cut troops in Iraq.
on Saturday Gates tried to reassure US troops in Iraq that despite a
recent focus on the US presence in Afghanistan, the U..S mission in
Iraq remained "incredibly important."
Military leaders have said
repeatedly they cannot send the desired 20,000 or more forces to
Afghanistan unless troop levels are reduced in Iraq. Gates,
nevertheless, insisted that the US military presence in Afghanistan
would never reach the same scope as that in Iraq.
unlikely that we will ever have a troop presence in Afghanistan
anything like we have had in Iraq," he said. "And so I think we will
meet General [David] McKiernan's request for the four additional BCTs
[Brigade Combat Teams] over the course of the next year or so, but as
I've said on this trip; I would be very concerned about a substantially
bigger US presence than that in Afghanistan."
"The Soviets were
there with 120,000 troops and lost because they didn't have the support
of Afghan people and at a certain point we get such a big footprint we
begin to look like an occupier and not an ally or supporter of the
Afghans," he added.
Gates said he would be "very concerned"
about a substantially larger US presence than the four brigade combat
teams that General David McKiernan, commander of US and NATO troops in
Afghanistan had requested.
The U.S. defense secretary's comments
on Afghanistan come just days after the United States said it will pour
thousands more troops into Afghanistan by next summer. Gates
announced from Kandahar on Thursday that the military can expect to
commit a sustained force in Afghanistan for several more years.