BAGHDAD — Despite this week’s handover of political control to the new Iraqi government, U.S. troops will be staying in Iraq for the long haul, military officials said.
It could take years before Iraq’s own security forces will be ready to defend themselves and the Iraqi people, according to Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Multinational Forces Iraq.
“Six months from now we will review our force numbers, and it may allow us to start a reduction in the number of forces,” Kimmitt said Wednesday in an interview with Stars and Stripes. “But it will be months if not years until we see the mission complete and have a freestanding and fully capable Iraqi security forces.
“[Our exit strategy] is to have a competent, trained, equipped and fielded Iraqi security forces that can do the job themselves. We’ve always had that as our mission.”
“We would like to do it quickly but are more concerned with doing it right,” Kimmitt said. “We don’t want to stay one day longer than necessary, but we don’t want to leave one day sooner than necessary.”
U.S. forces will also be expected to stay on the offensive, Kimmitt said, though U.S. military leaders would increasingly confer on operations with Iraqi leadership when possible.
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of the 101st Airborne Division, is overseeing the training of Iraqi forces, Kimmitt said.
Maj. T.V. Johnson, of the Fallujah-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Forces, said Marines there would not see an overnight difference in how they do business on the ground.
“Eventually we’ll move off the horizon as the Iraqi security forces take a greater lead in security,” Johnson said.
Kimmitt said parts of Iraq are more stable and self-sufficient than others, therefore enabling local and military leaders to work together more closely.
For example, in recent fighting in Baqouba, north of Baghdad, Col. Dana Pittard of the 1st Infantry Division met with Diyala provincial Gov. Abdullah Jabouri prior to dropping four 500-pound bombs on an insurgent stronghold, according to Capt. Bill Coppernoll, a 1st ID spokesman.
“This meeting is a prime example and the standard for what is expected from this point on,” Coppernoll said.
The 1st ID’s close relationship with local leaders in Diyala facilitated the meeting, Kimmitt said. That relationship has helped decrease the guerrilla-type violence prevalent in tenser areas such as Fallujah, west of Baghdad.
“This [bombing in Diyala] might have been a situation where they wanted to make sure the leaders were aware of what was going on,” Kimmitt said.
Iraqi security officers will eventually become first responders to flare-ups in their local communities, Kimmitt said, with U.S. and other forces holding back but responding as needed.
Those changes will come on a community-by-community basis, he said. In bigger cities such as Baghdad, local security duties would be assumed one neighborhood at a time.
Furthermore, U.S. troops would continue to detain prisoners who posed a threat to Iraqis, said Kimmitt, adding that prison operations were being reviewed and that Iraqi oversight might be integrated into some prisons.