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Odierno on the Pace of Withdrawal « The Washington Independent

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wants Gen. Raymond Odierno to address “how fast [we can] responsibly redeploy,” especially given the demands on the U.S. in Afghanistan. “What are the risks in speeding up” redeployment? The short answer: Odierno doesn’t play up the prospects for accelerating withdrawal.

Odierno replied that it’s his job to present to Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, Defense Secretary Gates and President Obama an assessment of those risks. “The important part is that we do not want to lose the security progress that has been made,” he said, noting that U.S. troops provide a “psychological” boost to Iraqi confidence. His concern is that a too-fast withdrawal will allow the “drivers of instability” to overtake that confidence. “We have to ensure that we don’t take enough risk [in accelerating withdrawal] that ethno-sectarian violence is able to continue, for example, over Arab-Kurd tensions,” or allows al-Qaeda to reassert itself, or places too much stress on the Iraqi political system. (Odierno fears that the political system, in an over-eager withdrawal could “fall,” which seems at odds with his presentation of a surprisingly robust Iraq in his opening statement.) “The plan we have, I believe,” Odierno said, “allows us to withdrawal deliberately and maintain what I believe is an appropriate level of security that the Iraqi security forces ultimately can sustain.”

He and Petraeus “work very carefully” to identify “any capabilities that we have and no longer need that can be used in Afghanistan.” That means combat-support elements like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. He said his plan has “flexibility to speed up [withdrawal] if I think the situation on the ground allows it, or to slow down, and I will continue to make those judgments as we move forward.” Odierno said that getting down to 120,000 troops by October’s end is ahead of what he planned, thanks to “improvements out in Anbar province.”

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