WASHINGTON — One hundred days into Operation New Dawn, there is hardly a soul in parlor conversation around the nation’s capital who believes the U.S. will remove every single soldier and servicemember from Iraq by December 31 next year, as is required by a current U.S.-Iraqi agreement.
But U.S. Forces-Iraq spokesman Brig. General Jeffrey Buchanan held firm, telling the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday it will happen.
“I absolutely believe we’re committed to living up to the security agreement,” he said. By end of December 2011, he asserted, “our forces will be down to zero.”
The U.S. must move out 48,000 people and massive amounts of equipment and material. Some planners have urged the U.S. command to start a gradual glide path now, he said, slowly and orderly sending troops back home.
“The problem is,” Buchanan said, “if we take that approach we’re going to limit what we can get done.”
“I think what you’re going to see is fairly consistent level of troops through at least the early summer, and then it will draw down much more steeply through the fall time frame,” he explained. “If we have significant troops there, we can get a lot more achieved.”
Several factors could affect whether the U.S. military really goes to zero (outside of any Iraqi choices). The U.S. remains focused on building up Iraqi Security Forces — especially training their trainers — while providing cover for counterterrorism and civilian transition operations. But there is a $1 billion difference between the White House’s request for ISF funds and what Congress is considering passing. Buchanan said any undercutting, if adopted, would affect the ISF’s ability to train and defend themselves and purchase and maintain equipment.
With so much left to do, from police training to private security firms, one State Department official told the Senate last month it would be “at least five more years” before Iraq is self-reliant, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
Ultimately, Buchanan said the Iraqi armed forces will require some kind of help after next year.
“I think that they’re going to have a basic, a foundational, if you will, conventional defensive capability,” he said, “but they’re going to still need further development beyond 2012.” He singled out intelligence, logistics and leadership development.
For now, figuring out how many U.S. troops that need will require remains a parlor game.