Troops Proud of Progress, Mission in Iraq, Mullen Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Mar. 3, 2008 There is a new, more upbeat mood among American troops in Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, fresh from meeting troops of Multinational Division North in Hawijah, Iraq, and Multinational Division Baghdad in the Rashid district, said the mood of the troops has improved since his first visit as chairman in October.
“One of my vivid memories from October was how tired the troops were and what a fight they were in at the time,” the chairman said during an interview with reporters traveling with him. “I saw a fresher group this time.”
He said U.S. servicemembers always have been resilient, but success has refreshed them. “They are proud of what they’re doing; they’ve made a huge difference. They know that,” Mullen said.
The improved security situation in Iraq is undeniable, the chairman said. As a result, troops are “working more on the development side than the security side. This is especially true in those places where the violence levels have gone down so dramatically,” Mullen said.
“Their confidence is up, their hopes are up,” he said. “That was a pretty dramatic difference in what I saw just a few months ago. That’s tied to success. Everybody likes a winner, and they’ve been winning.”
But troops still are tired, the chairman said. Mullen met soldiers who have deployed three and four times. Marines often deploy for seven months, come home and have a month before they need to start getting ready for the next deployment. The new attitude “doesn’t mean that they don’t want to get home; they do. And their families are tired,” the chairman said.
Mullen said a “precipitous” withdrawal from Iraq would leave the country in chaos and waste the precious “blood, sweat and tears” shed to make the gains to date. The U.S. sacrifice has made a difference, and “the Iraqi leadership has got to stand up,” the admiral said.
Sustaining security is important so the central, provincial and local governments can grow and businesses can flourish, Mullen said, but he added that that can’t happen overnight. He said that when people ask him how long the United States will be in Iraq, he answers, “It’s years, not months.”
But that doesn’t mean the troop levels the United States has in Iraq today, or in July, when the last of the “surge” forces redeploys, will be the standard, he noted. Troop levels will drop, he said, and the measure for how quickly that can happen will be the sustainment of security.
“If we were able to take the security we’ve had for the past year and stay on that ramp and that improvement track, the coalition forces -- including ours -- could be reduced significantly,” he said.
The admiral also discussed some of his thoughts on the upcoming report to the president and Congress on the way forward in Iraq. He said Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, will look at the situation from the perspective of Iraq. Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, will look at the situation from the perspective of the Middle East and Central Asia. Mullen and the rest of the Joint Chiefs will examine the situation from a global perspective.
They will work independently, the chairman noted.
“I think it’s healthy for all of us to have all the information we can, as late as we can, before making our recommendations,” he said. “The president, who is going to be the one who makes these decisions -- as it is his wont and responsibility to do -- gets the benefit of all that input. And I am willing to continue the process right up to the time the president makes his decision.”