MODERATOR: Well, good afternoon and thank you for joining us. It's my privilege to introduce a man that needs no introduction at all, General Raymond Odierno.
I just want to take a moment to personally thank him for all the times that he has come to this briefing room, joined us by satellite, and for his support with his subordinate commanders to keep the Pentagon Press Corps well informed about our operations in Iraq.
So General, thank you for joining us today.
GEN. ODIERNO: Thank you.
And good afternoon, everybody. First, I'm happy to be here today, in order to have a chance to update you on our mission in Iraq.
Yesterday marked three months since the Iraqi security forces assumed control of security, within their cities, as U.S. combat forces withdrew in accordance with the security agreement. And overall the transition has progressed well so far.
Over the past three months, we've seen incidents in Iraq remain at levels equal to the early part of 2003. And on the charts before you, we use six-month increments to show trends, to specifically highlight the trends in security incidents as well as high-profile attacks, over time, so you get a sense of the direction that they're headed.
U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to sustain pressure on extremist networks and continue to slowly degrade their ability to conduct sustained operations. However AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] continues to conduct sporadic high- profile attacks, such as the 19 August bombings against governmental institutions.
They do this in an attempt to destabilize the government and incite sectarian violence.
However, an overwhelming majority of Iraqi citizens reject these activities and they reject the groups that are responsible for these activities.
Although security continues to improve in Iraq, it is not yet enduring. There still remains underlying, unresolved sources of potential conflict that have to be addressed, which include regional and factional division, insufficient government of Iraq capacity, violent extremist groups and continued interference from external state and non-state actors.
An area of particular concern is the unresolved Arab-Kurd issues between the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. We fully support the United Nations efforts as they work with the political parties to resolve key issues, including legislation for hydrocarbon laws and revenue sharing and the disputed internal boundaries.
Over the years, the environment and threat have changed, and we have constantly adapted our strategy from focusing on protecting the people in a counterinsurgency fight to concentrating on developing Iraqi capacity. Today, given the hard-forged security gains, we are transitioning to stability operations slowly across the country. And we will continue to responsibly transfer responsibilities to the government of Iraq, the Iraqi security forces and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Though the focus of our forces is shifting from security to capacity building, our strategic goal remains to foster a long-term partnership with a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq. We have a good plan that we are executing, and I'm confident in our way ahead.
Iraq is a state and a society under construction, struggling to define its identity and its place in the world after decades of oppression and violence. The way in which we draw down our forces will impact not only the relationship between the United States and Iraq in the future, but also the nature of the new Iraq.
Our presence to 2011 provides psychological and physical support to the Iraqi people, the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces. It provides the opportunity for different groups to build up their constituencies, to participate in politics, to form alliances and to reach consensus.
The level and nature of U.S. engagement with the Iraqis will continue to change as the U.S. military draws down. Iraq is making steady progress, but has a long way to go.
We must have strategic patience. Through the Strategic Framework Agreement, the United States has a mechanism for supporting Iraq to develop its institutional and human capacity. Success will be defined by our ability to support Iraq's developing institutional capacity, from governance to economics through security, that will sustain Iraq's long-term stability.
The Iraqi security forces have made steady progress, and our efforts over the next two-and-a-half years will help solidify the foundation of a professional and competent Iraqi security force. We must leave Iraq with security forces capable of defending the Iraqi people and protecting their institutions.
And finally, I just want to close by once again recognizing the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians currently serving in Iraq. These great patriots and their families have made tremendous sacrifices on the behalf of our nation. They have made positive differences in the lives of millions, and all Americans should take pride in their accomplishments. And it's an honor for me to serve with them, and it's a great honor to have the opportunity to lead them in this endeavor.
And now I'd be happy to take any of your questions.
MODERATOR: (Off mike.)
Q General, Laura Jakes with Associated Press. While you are drawing down, what's the plan for ramping back up, should trends reverse and Iraq blows up again? And also I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about the Maliki campaign slogan of "Unified Iraq" and how you think this might play in the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] and whether or not that's going to further inflame tensions between Baghdad and Erbil.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. First, again we have -- always have decision points and contingency planning all along the redeployment timeline. So if some event happens that we believe for some reason security is moving backwards, I will make a recommendation back to Washington that recommends either we slow down -- slow down our reduction in forces. So that's always been part of the plan. It will continue to be part of the plan as we move forward.
In reference -- Prime Minister Maliki's coalition, as I believe he announced today -- first off, I think it shows the fact that we are starting to get different types of coalitions forming, which I think shows the political maturity in Iraq, that it does continue to mature.
I think he announced a broad-based coalition. I think this is extremely positive for Iraq that they have alternatives.
I don't believe it t have any influence at all on the Kurd-Arab situation. I think it's something that was expected and I think something that's very positive, actually, as we look forward to the national elections coming up.
Q Why don't you think it will have any impact on the Kurd- Arab --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think everybody expected him to have a broad-based coalition. I don't think this is a surprise to anyone. I don't think it's a surprise to the Kurds. I think, in fact, actually most people would see it as very positive that he's trying to include many different groups within his coalition.
Q Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Based on your concerns about the tensions between the Kurds and the Arabs in the north, what kind of solution you could expect to resolve these problems between the Arabs and the Kurds?
And my second question for you, sir: How do you see the future of the Peshmerga?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yes. Well, again, I think there's a couple different issues here. One is, what we want to try to do is continue to reduce tensions in the disputed areas so we don't allow tensions lead to some sort of violence which could really impact the overall stability inside of Iraq. That's number one.
And secondly, it's ultimately going to have to be political dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the government of Iraq. And there's a process set up. The U.N. process has started. They are talking in that process. And the U.S. will put all its weight behind the U.N. process in order to solve this problem.
So I think the important thing we have to do is help this process to work, help to build confidence between the KRG and the government of Iraq in the areas -- in the disputed areas so we don't have violence igniting those areas.
You asked me one more thing and I don't think I answered it.
Q I asked about the Peshmerga; how do you see the future.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Well, again, I think that is something that has to be negotiated. I mean, I believe -- you know, the Peshmerga's an internal force to the KRG. I believe -- again, that goes along with that these are disputed areas, so you have some Peshmerga forces in there. That has to be part of the solution, you know, what happens to them.
And then ultimately there's still some discussion that has to go on of are the Peshmerga and at what level are the Peshmerga -- how much are they going to be integrated into the security forces in Iraq. And those are discussions that have to be part of this entire discussion regarding the disputed areas.
Q JJ Sutherland, NPR. Just more on the Peshmerga.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q Have those joint patrols started between the -- with the Peshmerga and Iraqi army?
GEN. ODIERNO: No, they have not. What's happening is, we've had some -- we've tried to facilitate some work between the government of Iraq and the KRG. We've had some very good meetings. Now, we still have to finalize some things, then we have to -- we will take that for approval between all of those involved. But we still have some ways to go on that. They --
Q Timeline ?
GEN. ODIERNO: I don't yet.
Q Al Pessin with VOA. Yesterday and today both, you painted a picture of progress but remaining challenges. Are you still describing the situation in Iraq as fragile? Or can we put that to rest now? Is it irreversible? And you also talked yesterday about Iraq needing U.S. help beyond 2011. What sort of help do you mean? And do you think it will require some military presence, if only for training or air support or whatever it might be?
GEN. ODIERNO: Let me answer the first part first. I think the help I'm describing is that within the context of the strategic framework agreement, that it covers many different areas, from educational, technological, security. And so it has to -- about providing long-term assistance for developing systems, for example, from the military side; also developing economic capacity, developing educational capacity, medical capacity, all of those things. And I think, as we do that, that helps to build their institutions. So that's what I see happening beyond 2011.
Whether that will require trainers or anything else beyond 2011, we have not determined that yet, and that's something that will have to be discussed some time in the future as we get closer.
Q And on the fragility issue?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Yeah, I would say the government of Iraq continues to make progress and move forward. So it becomes less and less fragile and moves closer towards stability. So I guess what I'm telling you, it's a work in progress. I believe, every day that goes by, it becomes less and less likely that it -- you know, some event will cause the -- some sequel to events would cause the government to fail. You know, I think every time we move forward, every day, it becomes less and less likely.
That's why I think the elections are important, because they will go through what we hope to be peaceful elections, the seating of a new government peacefully. And these elections will be entirely run by the government of Iraq.
And I think that will help to really stabilize the institutions as derived from their own constitution. I think that's really important as we move forward.
MODERATOR: (Off mike.)
Q General, you mentioned yesterday that you expect to have about 120,000 troops by the end of October in Iraq. How many do you expect by the end of the year, and do you think it's going to be about 120,000 through the election?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yes.
Q And what are the specific obstacles toward moving forward on the joint patrol between the central army and the Peshmerga? And do you feel like the U.S.-civilian effort is moving at a strong enough, quick enough pace to support your current plans for drawdown?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, thanks. First, on the figure, it will be approximately 120,000 by the end of the month. I think we are continually to deliberately reduce our presence in Iraq. I think it will deliberately reduce a bit more before the end of the year. So it will be somewhere between 110(,000), 120,000 by the end of the year.
Then what we'll do is we'll hold that in place through the elections and about 60 days after the elections. And depending on how that goes, it's peaceful, and then we will make a determination of coming down to the 50,000-transition force by the first of September. So that's kind of the thought process as we talk about it right now.
What were the other questions you asked me? Sorry.
Q Regarding the joint patrol --
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q -- what are the specific obstacles? Are they political or are they logistical?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Yeah, actually that's been going fairly well. And we've had some very good discussions with the government of Iraq, as well as the KRG. We had the -- we still have to work out some various specifics about command and control, intel sharing and other things which we're working through now. And I think, you know, we'll come to some solution with those very -- you know, over the next few weeks, I hope, but then we'll go from there.
But then, of course, it always come down to approval by the leaders, both Prime Minister Maliki and President Barzani.
Q Thank you. And then the third question was, the U.S.- civilian effort, do you feel like it's moving along?
Q Yeah. Yeah. One of things we're going through right now is, we are reviewing our Joint Campaign Plan. And we've been doing this for about a month and a half now. We expect to publish that in November, December. This is the Joint Campaign Plan between the embassy and Multinational Force-Iraq. And this campaign is specifically aimed at the next two-and-a-half years, and part of that is the transitions that have to occur.
And deliverables are what the embassy will pick up, what the government of Iraq will pick up, and what will be required. So we hope -- as we go through this process, we are defining specifically what we believe the State Department and other agencies will pick up as the military leaves, and what has to be transferred to the government of Iraq.
So we're developing that now. The planning has been a collaborative process. I've been very pleased with the planning process that we've been going through. And I suspect that will -- that will come out somewhere at the end of the year or beginning of next year.
Q General, your -- Bill McMichael, Military Times. Your timeline means that you'll be pulling out next year somewhere between 60 (thousand) and 70,000 troops, after the elections -- so August 31st. And given your 60-day caveat there, that means you probably have to do that within about five months. Logistically, how can you -- how can you make that happen successfully?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, first --
Q And can you meet the requirements of the -- go ahead.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, thank you. First, we have -- we have been planning this for some time, and I think that we have come up with an adequate planning timeline of what we have to do, how we can do that over time. And I think -- I'm very comfortable with our ability to move the equipment and people necessary.
You know, what people don't know is between January and September of this year, we moved out about 25,000 people and equipment. You know, that's a little bit longer period of time, a little bit less, but we did it without anybody really knowing that we had done that. So I think we understand how to do this. I think we know what the specifics are of where the -- where there could be problems. And I feel confident that we'll be able to meet the timeline.
Q Not only people, but gear, their gear as well?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yes.
Q Or do you anticipate that some of the gear will lag behind?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again, we'll have some -- obviously, some of the equipment will stay behind and continue to support the troops there. But I believe the plan that we have will -- will get the gear out. In fact, some gear we're moving out now. I mean, we're moving stuff out now that we don't think we're going to need between now and August. We have six years of equipment that has built up in Iraq, and the stuff that's excess we are moving out now, and have been for several months. So I feel the plan that we have in place will allow us to get the equipment out and the people out on time.
Q Do you see -- sorry, Jeff, with Stars and Stripes. Do you see an progress being made on Kirkuk?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again, that goes to the -- to the disputed areas. And again, it's -- I'll give you the same answer. It is that, you know, this is a problem, obviously, that we -- that has been going on now for several years.
The U.N. has taken on the role of working, between the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, to come up with solutions for this problem. And we see that continuing.
The good part about it is, they're meeting every couple weeks. They're talking about the issues. And we think that's a positive thing. What we're hoping is that they'll develop a security architecture that the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government will agree to, that will help to reduce the tensions, until they can solve this problem.
So that's all part of that problem. You know, Kirkuk will be solved. It will be solved under the next government that's in, because it will not happen between now and the elections. But we do think the process that's in place, with the U.N., will allow it to be worked and hopefully resolved, once the new government gets into place.
Q If I could follow up, what gives you confidence that the next government can solve Kirkuk when it hasn't been solved so far?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again I think we have to continue to put pressure on it. You know, the government understands, and the next council of representatives -- my guess is when they get seated -- understands, that we have to solve this problem.
And I think that everyone now understands that this U.N. process is a way forward. And they believe this is a way where they can negotiate through and start to work through some of the solutions for solving the problem of Kirkuk. It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be easy.
Q Luis Martinez of ABC News.
Sir, if I could follow on Viola's question about going down to 120,000 by the end of October, some have interpreted that as being an additional combat brigade.
Is this the additional combat brigade that Secretary Gates had spoken about, in June, that you might draw down by the end of the year? Or are you still foreseeing that as a possibility?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, this reduction was one that was planned. We sped it up probably a month or so. It had to do with the reduction of our forces, in Anbar, where we are putting in the first advisory-and-assist brigade, into Anbar, that are replacing the Marines that have been operating out in Anbar. And that's the resultant reduction that you're seeing.
Again there are still some other decision points that we could make, to off-ramp some other units, around the first of the year. And we're still taking a look at that.
Q So the plan right now is to stay at 11 through the end of the year, unless there are overreaching --
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. I mean, the bottom line is, a lot of this has to do with when units come in and when they go out as well. And so that dictates when we might off-ramp units. It depends on whether we bring the replacement in or not. And so I suspect that we might see one get off-ramped in the beginning of the year. But that's still a decision we have to make.
Q General, you had -- in -- earlier, a couple years back, you had helped devise the population-centric COIN [counter insurgency] approach in Iraq.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q You also took part in a political debate about additional troops for Iraq that had a lot of parallels to the debate happening now about Afghanistan.
Do you have a sense of whether your COIN population-centric counterinsurgency is the right approach and a workable approach for Afghanistan? And also, have you identified specific assets in Iraq that could be easily and quickly shifted to Afghanistan?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, first, I don't pretend to know the details of Afghanistan that it takes to develop what the strategy is for Afghanistan. I've spent, as you all know, the last several years in Iraq, and I've been focused totally on Iraq.
What I do know is, what you have to do is you have to do your assessment of the entire environment that you're operating in. And I know General McChrystal has done that. And so based on that environment, you have to come up with a solution on what's best in order to solve the problems that you're given.
So I can't speak to Afghanistan, and I wouldn't attempt to, because, again, I've spent all my time in Iraq. But what I know they're doing is they're looking at the environment -- the political, socio-economic, the enemy and several other criteria -- and trying to understand why is the violence increasing and how do you get at the why. And so that's the process they're going through.
But I would be disingenuous if I tried to give you a solution, because I really do not understand Afghanistan enough to give you a recommendation on that.
In terms of equipment moving to Afghanistan, we work very carefully as we believe equipment's coming available as we reduce our needs. We do all we can to transfer what we can from Iraq to Afghanistan. We've, for example, sent some route-clearance team equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan that we had excess that we once were using.
And we have transitioned some engineers that were in Iraq to Afghanistan. We've moved some aviation from Iraq to Afghanistan. We've moved some aviation from Iraq to Afghanistan. But it wasn't -- it was requirements that we knew were coming down in Iraq, so what we try to do is leverage that as quickly as possible to get that over to Afghanistan. And we will continue to do that as we see fit. But obviously, my focus is making sure that I have what we need in order to finish our mission in Iraq, and I'll always take that into consideration.
Q General, yesterday you mentioned AQI, al Qaeda in Iraq, is trying to go back into Anbar province, if possible. Given their efforts, like how reliable the loyalty of the residents in Anbar province, knowing that they're, you know, being chased after?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. I would just say, what I said was their plan is to -- they want to -- they want to -- they're trying to maintain a foothold up in the north, and then ultimately they want to have influence in Anbar and Baghdad.
We have found that the Anbar security forces, both the police and the army, continue to stand up to al Qaeda, the minor attacks that occur, the few in number -- they're not always minor. And the Iraqi citizens continue to reject al Qaeda across Iraq. All of the Iraqi citizens are continuing to reject the -- both the philosophical nature and the criminal nature of AQI.
Q Sir, you have said yesterday that all neighboring countries have an influence inside Iraq. Given what you know about Iran's influence, could you give us an update on what you have -- what you are seeing now regarding Turkey's influence, regarding Saudi Arabia, regarding Syria's influence in Iraq?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again, I think, you know, as I've said many times, Iraq is a very strategically important country in the Middle East. And everyone has -- all these neighboring countries are interested in how Iraq turns out.
What -- what I do know is we've had Iranian interference inside of Iraq, as we've talked about. We've had foreign fighter facilitation through Syria. We've had some old Ba'ath Party elements who live in Syria continue to discuss on the Internet and other areas about increasing violence in Iraq. So those are areas that we know for sure are outwardly causing problems.
I think in all the other countries, what they are interested in is helping Iraq to move forward with -- with the democratic processes.
So, you know, what -- so what I think is important is they think Iraq's important. They think Iraq has -- plays an important role in the Middle East. So the other countries, what they try to do is, again, influence it politically, through political processes.
So what's important is that Iraqis get to choose their leaders, without malign interference from outside nations. It think that Iraq is doing their best job to ensure that happens. And we are assisting them whenever we can to ensure that doesn't happen.
Q You spoke yesterday about al Qaeda still having a presence in Mosul and increase in potential high-profile attacks there -- or, I'm sorry, the continued high-profile attacks in Mosul. Would you characterize Mosul, or perhaps all of Nineveh province, as the last al Qaeda stronghold in Iraq? And have you seen any evidence recently that al Qaeda is spreading out from there into other neighboring areas?
GEN. ODIERNO: First, I would -- I would say that's where al Qaeda is trying to establish a stronghold in Iraq. They do not control large portions of Nineveh or Mosul, but they do have enough influence -- or they do have some freedom of movement where they're able to conduct some high-profile attacks inside of Nineveh province and Mosul.
I want to make sure that's clear because what I -- what I don't believe is al Qaeda, for example, could keep people from voting and influence the elections. I don't think they have anywhere near amount that control. But -- but the problem is they're still conducting attacks and killing innocent civilians, and so we're very concerned about that.
They are attempting to try to influence Baghdad and the areas around it. We are very aware of that. The Iraqi security forces are very aware of that and, so far, they've been fairly proficient at keeping that from happening. But we do have still some attacks that occur inside of Baghdad and around the belts of Baghdad, but they are limited in nature.
The concerning part of it is not that it will destabilize the government of Iraq or the way forward; the concerning nature is the killing of innocent people. And that's the problem with it right now, and that's -- that's what's bothersome.
Q And are they primarily attacking citizens, Iraqi citizens, or Iraqi security forces or --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, there's a couple of things. What I've seen, the pattern is they go after government of Iraq institutions, to include Iraqi security forces, Iraqi police.
And they also go after minority groups -- whether it be, in the north, Shi'a minorities or Kurdish minorities or other groups -- in an attempt in my mind to try to enflame ethnosectarian violence.
Q General, what do you see the chances are that you'll be able to declare victory in Iraq before you leave personally?
Do you see that happening before you go?
GEN. ODIERNO: I'm not sure we ever will see anyone declare victory in Iraq because first off, I'm not sure we'll know for 10 years or five years.
What we've done here is, we're giving Iraq an opportunity in the long term, to be a strategic partner of the United States but more importantly be a partner in providing regional stability inside of the Middle East.
They have an opportunity to build an open economy. They have an opportunity to continue to move forward with their nascent democracy. That's not going to happen next year or the year after or the year after that.
It's going to be several years before we know. But the positive piece is, we've given them the opportunity to do that. And I think that's what our goals were, is they now have an opportunity to do this. And that's why I tell that the engagement after 2011 is as important as our continued engagements prior to 2011.
Again I don't mean military engagement necessarily. I mean engagement across the spectrum of our government, in order to help them continue to build into a stable institution.
And again I think the cultural, educational, all these other programs that we continue to develop, in Iraq, will be very important as we continue to move forward here in the long term.
Q Thank you, General.
How have you reshaped the force, the thousands that were pulled out of the cities this summer, back to their bases? Are you able to conduct combat operations in places you weren't before? Are they in support? Or are a lot of them in sort of a QRF [quick reaction force] overwatch mode now?
GEN. ODIERNO: Thanks.
What we've done is, first, Tom, we haven't pulled them back into the big bases. We've pulled them back. And they continue to be dispersed throughout Iraq in smaller bases. Although we have closed over 200 bases, we still have well over 200 bases remaining. So they are spread out among many small bases.
What this has enabled us to do is give Iraqi security forces primacy inside of the cities with us providing, enabling them with trainers and advisers and some technical support.
What that's allowed us to do is concentrate our forces in the belts around Baghdad, around Mosul. It's allowed us to focus working with the Iraqi security forces on the borders, both the Iranian border and the Syria border, to add depth to their ability to secure themselves.
In all cases, they are in the lead, and we work by, with and through the Iraqi security forces. But outside of the cities we're able to conduct full-spectrum operations with the Iraqi security forces.
Q General, looking at your chart here, there are so many incidents -- so many awful attacks there in the period between, you know, June, July -- or January '06 through the middle of '07, late '07. And so much of that -- during so much of the time, we heard so much about the involvement of Iran in terms of shipping in particularly EFP [explosively formed penetrator] explosives and training and arming people within Iraq. Could you give us a sharp sense of -- or as sharp as you can -- sense of where that malign influence now stands, and what efforts you've -- what steps you've taken to try to cut that off, including border security?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. As the number of incidents have reduced over time, it's a combination of obviously Sunni insurgent groups, al Qaeda and Shi'a extremists and militias that were operating throughout Iraq. And what's happened over time is, we've reduced the presence of Shi'a militias. Iran in '07 and '08 were providing a significant amount of training and materiels to conduct attacks. They are still doing that, but it is more focused in my mind now. It is not broad- based like it once was.
And part of the reason is because a lot of those entities have been eliminated and are no longer effective, as they were back then. So it makes it more difficult. So they're focusing on very specific groups. So that talks about how the number of incidents has been eliminated.
What's being done now is -- I'm very encouraged, actually, in the work that's been done in southern Iraq, with our working with the Iraqi security forces. You know, over the last month or so, the Iraqis themselves have picked up three to four very large caches of Iranian rockets, Iranian EFPs, as they continued to pressure them, as they continued to bring munitions in. So I think to me that's encouraging, the work we've been able to do in working in areas that, for a long time, we didn't have any U.S. presence in: Amarah in southern Iraq, in Dhi Qar and in Nasiriyah.
And now we're working with the Iraqi security forces. They continue to improve their security, and we've allowed them also to push out towards the border. And we've been able to push surveillance systems and other things out there to support them as they conduct these operations.
So I think that's helped. And we'll continue to do that until we leave.
Q (Off mike) -- more focused, sir -- just to follow real quickly -- although that support is still focused, would you still term it significant?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean, if you're training people and surrogates in Iran to come back into Iraq and you're providing them rockets and other things, I'd call that significant, because it can still -- it enables people to conduct attacks not only on U.S. forces but on Iraqi civilians.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Ann Tyson, Washington Post. Sir, many years you've been involved in the Iraq operation, and specifically that was aimed primarily at the al Qaeda in Iraq group, which had ties to the broader al Qaeda. And I'm just wondering if you could reflect on the difficulties of going after a group like that, as a narrow counterinsurgency -- I mean, counterterrorist action, as opposed -- without the broader counterinsurgency effort to support it, and why it is necessary to have both combined.
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, first, you have to have -- and your last comment was the most important. You have to have both combined. In order to effectively go after these elements, you have to have counterinsurgency operating by your conventional forces that then can be supplemented by counterterrorism operations by your higher-end counterterrorism forces. It takes a combination of both of these things. You're going to have to -- and the reason you need those forces is because of the connections that go on not only in Iraq but outside of Iraq. And so we want to make sure that you have to understand that.
Now, what we've been able to do in Iraq is sever al Qaeda-Iraq from mainstream al Qaeda. They have -- you know, we -- that's been done for the last year or so, where they have a lot of difficulty communicating to get -- they don't get any support, external support, for their effort any more in Iraq. So what they've had to do is they've degenerated into an organization that has to try to fund themselves inside of Iraq, with a population that is rejecting their presence inside of the country, which has made it difficult for them to raise funds. So that's critical.
And it takes a combination of a counterinsurgency in order to allow the population to feel secure so they can help you against this counterterrorism threat, and you still need the precision of our counterterrorism forces to go after these sometimes high-end, complex, enemy forces that are there.
Q Well, why did it not look like, if you were only conducting counterterrorism operations without that broad --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I think it depends -- when -- if you ask me today, I would tell you we could potentially -- that's where we're headed.
And I think that'll be effective.
If you told me back here, that would not have solved this problem, because there's a broader counterinsurgency problem. And so we needed a combination of both of those elements here in order to bring security to the level we needed in order for the government to grow.
Q This is Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes again. I've heard one problem with the Iraqi military is they simply don't share information with each other, not just different units but people within the units. Is this a problem that's going to remain even after the U.S. has departed?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think -- I would just say I think it depends on which unit you're in. But I think this is something that they're slowly overcoming and we're working very hard with them on. This is something that I would argue was cultural through the times of the armies of Saddam Hussein, where you'd kind of -- every unit kept very carefully their own information.
But what we're starting to see is broad cooperation between the minister of interior, the minister of defense. We're seeing cooperation between divisions -- for example, that's why they formed these operational commands. They also have provincial joint coordination centers, where the police and the army sit right next to each other and are sharing information inside of those provinces. So I think we've made some good progress, and I think they'll continue to make progress on that.
So they've made progress. They still have more to be made yet. But I think they're heading in the right direction.
Q Just to follow up on that, if I may, do you see the Iraqis becoming more professional in terms of their analysis of the situation and their ability to deflect political interference from the professionals? Because, as you pointed out, yesterday was the three-month anniversary --
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q -- and at the beginning there were some problems in that regard, a wishful thinking that led to some bad outcomes.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Yeah. I think what I would say is as I look at the professionalism of the Iraqi forces, they have slowly learned first about counterinsurgency. And they've actually learned about non-lethal and lethal. And I think we've seen a real progression in this specifically over the last year, where they understand the importance of getting out into the community, of providing benefits to the community, which ultimately results in more information and helps them to protect the community. I think they've learned that, and we continue to see them grow in that aspect.
I think -- for the most part, I think that we have seen a tremendous growth in the professionalism of the Iraqi army. One of the things I still am a bit concerned with is the fact that they -- that in -- you know, is the potential for them to be influenced for political means. I'm seeing most of them stay and -- move away from that.
But that's one of the things we watch very carefully, to make sure that there's not political pressure put on, for very specific goals, in certain areas. I think that will grow over time. But there's still some more time that's going to take, for that to completely be eliminated.
Q Are you talking about political pressure from regional or tribal leaders, as well as from --
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, actually I mean it more from a regional/tribal aspect.
Q Sir, I'm just wondering, as you see Iraq sort of slip from the front pages and the attention of the administration turn to Afghanistan, do you worry that that is a danger? And also just as a follow-up to that, how often do you speak with the president?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, actually I send a report to the president every single week that I know he reads, because he comments on it all the time.
Q When was the last time you talked to him?
GEN. ODIERNO: A month ago or so. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to go talk to him this afternoon. So today will be -- if you ask me tomorrow, I'll tell you today. So but I also talk to the vice president quite often. The vice president has been out several times. So I feel very comfortable with that.
You know, you know, what I worry about is not so much that. My chain of command is, you know, General Petraeus and the Secretary of Defense. And we talk regularly. So you know, I feel that they're focused. And the Secretary of Defense provides, you know, what the president and the vice president needs to know. And that's how it should work.
That's how our chain of command works. And I feel very comfortable with that, that I'm represented accordingly. The only thing I worry about -- I don't worry about at all Afghanistan being reported. I think some of that is because of the progress we've made in Iraq.
What I want to make sure is we don't lose focus on where we're at, in Iraq, and that people understand that we have made some progress, and we really have an opportunity here. And I want to make sure that we don't lose that opportunity. And I think that that's the one thing that I try to stress when I come out.
Q Can you give us a preview of your conversation with the president this afternoon?
GEN. ODIERNO: It will be whatever he wants to know about Iraq. (Laughs.) But I think -- you know, I think, it's just a matter -- just to get together with him quickly and just give him a quick update. And I'll do that.
Q So during that two-month window, following the elections, do you foresee the potential for maybe troop extensions, so that you can keep the force level current?
GEN. ODIERNO: It's not about force levels current. There might be a couple headquarters that get a small extension. And it's because it's about the elections. And so it has to do again with the timing of when the elections occur.
What I don't want to do is bring in a brand new division headquarters, for example, for the elections. I just want to wait till a couple weeks after the elections. So it might cause a couple weeks extension.
In addition, you might see an extension on the Marine headquarters, because they're ending their mission. And so because they're ending a mission, it takes a little bit more time for them to get their equipment out. So I'll have to extend that, so they can get their equipment out.
So you might also see some extension on their forces. But I feel for the most part, those are very -- those are the exception, not the rule. And it has to do with the election, as well as with the end of mission of the Marines in Iraq.
Q (Off mike.) It's a small number.
GEN. ODIERNO: Very small, a very small number.
Q A thousand, maybe?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. A thousand or less.
MODERATOR: We have time for maybe one, two more.
Q I just wanted to follow up on that.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q Kind of a housekeeping question. Do you envision there to be fewer divisions in Iraq as -- and when do you expect that drawdown to happen?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. I mean, I think -- you know, right now, I think immediately following the elections, we'll see a headquarters. Now, we're talking about headquarters.
GEN. ODIERNO: I see a reduction in a division headquarters.
Q The west one, I take it?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q So --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, what will happen is, it won't be -- we'll just -- we have four division headquarters that control Iraq. We'll now divide up Iraq with three headquarters.
Q Okay. And at what point do you think it will just be Baghdad will be the main headquarters or down to a corps level, to put --
GEN. ODIERNO: Very late in 2011.
GEN. ODIERNO: But I -- no. I don't know. It may -- not anywhere near -- in the near future.
The other thing I'd -- which I do not mention is, we are combining MNF-I [Multi-National Forces, Iraq], and on the first of January it will become U.S. Forces-Iraq. That will be combining several different headquarters, about a 40 percent reduction of headquarter's numbers.
I think it's time for us to do that as we continue to transition our mission over time. And it consolidates the span of control, in my mind.
Q Are you -- given that -- I mean, obviously the military attention is shifting heavily -- Iraq to Afghanistan. Are you noticing any slackening of foreign-fighter influx? And do you have the sense that fighters who once would have gone to Iraq to fight the U.S. are now going to Afghanistan to try to do the same?
GEN. ODIERNO: I think -- what I've noticed is, for months now before, is that we've seen a much lower level of foreign fighters coming into Iraq. I think it's because it's difficult for them to come in, and I think's it difficult for them once they get in to be effective, so I think the number has reduced.
I can't tell you if -- you know, if when they can't go to Iraq, they then head to Afghanistan. I mean, I don't know. What I do know is that the facilitation networks that operate in Syria feed both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Okay. I appreciate it very much. I've got to get going, so thank you so much.
Q Thank you.
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