October 12 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - October 12, 2011

            MR. GEORGE LITTLE: Good morning. I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the director of the J-9, and official spokesman for U.S. Forces in Iraq.

            General Buchanan has served in Iraq for the past 14 months, and this is his first time to join us in the Pentagon Briefing Room. His directorate, in partnership with U.S. Mission-Iraq, employs political, economic and information means to assist the government of Iraq to sustain security and to advance political and economic development throughout the country of Iraq.

            He'll make an opening comment, and then we'll take your questions. And with that, I'll turn it over to him.

            MAJOR GENERAL JEFFREY BUCHANAN: Well, thanks for every -- thanks to everybody for joining us today.

            And like -- like was said, I'll make some brief comments about the progress and status of United States Forces-Iraq's transition efforts and then open it up for questions.

            First, in just a little bit more than 2 1/2 months, United States Forces-Iraq is going to case its colors. As you all know, we signed a bilateral security agreement in 2008, and one of the requirements of that security agreement was that U.S. Forces-Iraq completed our transition to a civilian authority and withdraw all our forces by the end of 2011. We're completely on track to do just that.

            There have been a number of discussions lately, and discussions are ongoing between the Iraqi and United States governments about the potential for U.S. military assistance above and beyond what would normally fall under the ambassador's purview extending beyond the end of the year. But I think it's important to recognize there are no agreements to this date about any -- about any such military assistance after the beginning of January of 2011 (sic). We have honored all of our commitments to both Iraq and the United States under the security agreement, and we're on track to meet all of our obligations.

            I do want to talk a little bit about our reposture efforts. So first let me talk about equipment. You know, if you look at our reposture efforts and all that we have undertaken to redeploy United States Forces-Iraq from Iraq back to the United States and other areas, we've undertaken a massive effort, but all is on track.

            With respect to equipment, we've redeployed more than 1.6 million pieces of equipment since the start of Operation New Dawn in September of last year and have about 800,000 pieces of equipment to go.

            And just to give you an idea of the scope of what we're talking about, last week on the -- on the road we had 399 convoys and more than 13,900 trucks moving this equipment out of Iraq as well as sustaining our forces with food and fuel.

            For bases, we have -- we have come down from a high of 505 U.S. military bases in Iraq at the start of 2008 to 92 at the start of Operation New Dawn. And since Operation New Dawn started in September of 2010, we've transitioned 69 bases, with the last two going yesterday and today. So we're now responsible for 23 U.S. military bases in Iraq. And again, we're on track to transition all of those by the end of the year as well.

            For personnel, our troop numbers are about -- as of last week we had about 41,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. And as you all know, that number has been fairly constant since the start of New Dawn, mostly between 45 and 49,000 troops. We wanted to preserve the number of troops at a fairly steady level throughout this year because we had a lot of work to do in stability operations, and also we wanted to maintain as much flexibility as we could for General Austin. But we are on track, and we will meet our requirement to redeploy the last remaining military personnel, so right now from 41,000 down to zero by the end of the year.

            All of our redeployments, base transitions, redeployment of equipment and certainly redeployment of personnel goes with a hundred percent accountability, takes a significant amount of effort to plan, coordinate, synchronize all these operations, coordinate with the Iraqi security forces so that they're on track helping us clear routes and provide security as we move our equipment out.

            And all along the way, we're very cognizant of our responsibility to be the best possible stewards of all of our equipment and protect our forces all along the way throughout the period of redeployment.

            Like I said, we are on track for all of the transition tasks for redeploying equipment, transitioning bases and personnel, but the last piece is what we do on our mission set, I think is also important to talk about.

            The second agreement we signed, back in 2008, in addition to the security agreement, was a strategic framework agreement. And as this audience probably knows, that agreement aspires to an enduring partnership between our two countries. Both of our countries are committed to this relationship. And it sets the conditions for a wide variety -- or for cooperation in a wide variety of areas. One of those areas is defense and security cooperation. And to that vein, we have transitioned from U.S. Forces-Iraq some missions to U.S. mission-Iraq, or United States embassy responsibility just this month.

            The first of those is we transitioned our police professionalization and police development program under -- from the responsibility of the military forces to that of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. And they're well on track to continue to provide mentorship for Ministry of Interior forces in Basra, in Baghdad and in Irbil.

            We also have stood up fully the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq. And though it won't have the same mission responsibilities, obviously, as USF-I, it will be responsible for case management of foreign military sales cases that the government of Iraq and the government of the United States have both committed to.

            So what we're talking about here is under the ambassador's authority, a small organization, about 200 personnel -- military, civilians, contractors, including Iraqi contractors, that provide for the sound fielding and technical training of equipment. And again, we're set to do that on a number of different sites throughout the country.

            So like I said, all our -- all our transition efforts are on track. And with that, I'd like to turn it back over to the moderator for questions.

            CAPT. CAMPBELL: All right. Thank you, General Buchanan. Lita.

            Q: General, Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press. There've been some reports that the Iraqis have made sort of a request for about 5,000 U.S. personnel to stay beyond the end of the year. Does this, do you think, represent at least a small milestone in that they've actually come forward with a hard request? And can you talk a little bit about whether you think that's going to be a rational number to start negotiating on?

            GEN. BUCHANAN: Well, I think that the -- probably the most -- the important thing I can say is I've seen the media reports of the specific request, but like I mentioned, the discussions between Iraq and the United States are ongoing. And honestly, when it comes to numbers, it's usually not helpful to speculate about numbers because I don't want to limit any ongoing discussions. But also, I think the important thing to nail down would be what the roles and missions of the forces or of the trainers would be.

            And again, all of this is predecisional. There is no agreement to this point. We are committed to an enduring relationship with Iraq, but there is no agreement for any U.S. military assistance beyond the OSC-I at this point.

            Q: General, Larry Shaughnessy from CNN. How much is the subject matter of immunity for any U.S. troops who might stay behind part of the negotiations? Is it a -- is it a large part of the discussions, or is it a relatively small part of what your people are discussing?

            GEN. BUCHANAN: Well, Larry, we've been very up-front with the Iraqis throughout this discussion phase and even before these actual discussions started that any U.S. service members that we have serving in Iraq would have to have the same sort of legal protections that they do now have under the security agreement or the same sort of legal protections our soldiers have that are serving in any other country around the world. So I'm confident that it would be part of the discussions.

            Q: General, thanks. Chris Carroll from Stars and Stripes. You had mentioned that one of the reasons for keeping the troop levels relatively constant as the bases are shut down is to maintain maximum flexibility for General Austin. I wonder if you could expand on what that means.

            And secondly, as the -- I guess more troops get packed into fewer bases, are there any logistical or infrastructure challenges as a result of this that might be limiting the ability to stay on the mission?

            GEN. BUCHANAN: Oh, I'll take the second question first, and the bottom line is, we have a finely synchronized plan that brings troops in and moves them out. When it comes to redeploying equipment, whether it goes out through the north or the west or the south, all of that is coordinated and synchronized. And we time it of course so that we can maintain accountability of equipment, and we move the personnel, medical evacuation capability and all of that is -- it's really synchronized.

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