General Links Security at Home to U.S. Role in Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2005 The contributions U.S. servicemembers are making in Iraq are helping ensure the peace and security families across the United States will enjoy this Thanksgiving, the commander of coalition operations in Iraq told Pentagon reporters via satellite today.
"I am struck in this holiday season by the enormous sacrifice of the young men and women over here -- the things that they're doing on a daily basis on our behalf as a nation," said Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq and the U.S. Army's 18th Airborne Corps.
Vines called their contributions "absolutely magnificent," particularly in light of the complexity of the tasks involved. These include developing Iraq's security forces fighting an insurgency, helping build a new government and reconstructing a country devastated by more than 30 years of war and oppression.
"And I believe, in a very direct way, they're helping to provide for the security and safety of our fellow citizens back in the United States," Vines said.
Terrorists consider the United States "an archenemy" and want to use Iraq as a base for a strike against it, Vines said.
"And those young men and women in harm's way here recognize that, and I think they are committed to the fight," he said.
The general praised the "heroic efforts" of those forces and the progress they are helping bringing about.
Vines called "the debate and bitterness" within the United States about the Iraq mission "disturbing," but acknowledged that people in a democracy are allowed to have differences of opinion. What's important, he said, is that troops in Iraq know they have the support of the U.S. people and their elected officials as they continue their mission.
Now is too soon to withdrawal U.S. forces from Iraq because the country's own security forces, while improving steadily, aren't yet ready to assume full responsibility for Iraq's security, he said.
"Although Iraqi security forces are able to conduct operations in a large portion of their area with only limited coalition support, they do require our support at this time," he said. "That support will be increasingly less over a period of time, but a precipitous pullout, I believe, would be destabilizing."
At the same time, Vines said, Iraq's security forces are playing an increasing role in the country's security. About one-third of the Iraqi army battalions are responsible for their own areas of operation and 80 percent of the Iraqi security forces are conducting combat operations at any given time, he said.
"Iraqi soldiers and policemen are in the fight," the general said. "They're risking their lives and they're fighting, and in some cases, dying for Iraq, for the security of their fellow citizens."
Meanwhile, Vines cited solid progress on the political front. The upcoming Dec. 15 national election, which will seat a new government for the next four years, "will provide a level of stability that to this point has not been there," he said.
Progress in Iraq, particularly during the last year, "is absolutely extraordinary," Vines said. He acknowledged, however, that "an enormous amount remains to be done."
The big challenge ahead will be to ensure that Iraq's new government remains stable as it builds new institutions for its people, the general said.
"I believe, ultimately, the stability of the government and its ability to support its security forces and provide for the basic challenges of governance is the great long-term challenge," he said. "But that is central to the success of the operation here."
Vine said he's impressed by the Iraqi people and their commitment to a free and secure Iraq.
Unlike Americans, who Vines said sometimes take their own security for granted, Iraqis don't, he said.
"Iraqis don't take it for granted because they recognize that people such as the jihadists and Islamic extremists wish to impose their world view on Iraq, and they recognize what's at stake," he said.