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No Near-Term Change Seen in U.S. Troop Numbers in Iraq

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2004 Р Iraq's interim government may have taken control of the country, but U.S. forces will remain for some time, a senior coalition military official said in Baghdad today.

"I think it will be some time before we see significant basing changes, significant operational changes, and, for that matter, significant numerical changes in the size of the multinational force," said the official, who spoke to reporters on background. "We don't see in the near term changing the amount of soldiers on the ground for months and months."

The official also told reporters that no deadline has been set for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which he said are needed to help train Iraqi troops to defend the country, nor has a target date been set for when Iraqi troops will be able to take over their own security.

"We would like it sooner rather than later, we would like to do it right, we would like to do it quick," he said. "But we are more concerned with doing it right. We don't want to stay here one day longer than necessary, but we don't want to leave one day sooner than necessary."

After six months or so, he said, an opportunity may arise to review the force numbers.

"Maybe at that point the quality of the Iraqi security forces, the equipment that we've give them, the training that we've given them may allow us to start a reduction in the number of forces," he said. "But I wouldn't want to hazard a guess, he added. "It's still much too early before we can see the mission complete."

The official told reporters that as Iraqi forces "get stronger," the U.S. presence in Iraq will "get smaller."

"We've got to be honest," he said. "It's not going to be defined in terms of days and weeks, and it's going to be defined in terms of months, and perhaps years."

Iraqi security forces will take complete control over cities as conditions allow, he said.

"If the government in that city can handle it, if the Iraqi security forces can handle it, and the conditions on the ground are not so severe, there will be a gradual pulling away of the American or coalition multinational forces from that particular city," the official explained. Iraqi police forces would maintain control inside such cities, with multinational military forces nearby to assist if needed.

"The Iraqi security forces, in general, want to handle the day-to-day threat," he said. "And they feel very confident knowing they can pick up the 'hot phone' and call and get the assistance."

The official also told reporters the United States is committed to moving out of Abu Gharib prison and will release those detainees determined by a review board not to be a security threat. "It is our intention to release as many people as possible that aren't a security threat to the people of Iraq," he said.

He added that U.S. troops understand they are operating inside a sovereign nation, and that their job now is to "build the confidence of the people of Iraq."

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