U.S., Britain have exit strategy: First troops out in late 2005
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Monday, January 31, 2005
WASHINGTON – Britain and the United States have agreed on a withdrawal plan that would see the first troops leaving Iraq as early as 2005, according to British press reports and diplomatic sources.
The sources said London and Washington have approved a plan that would replace military troops with civilian advisers to the Iraqi military, police and security forces. The sources said these advisers would train and mentor Iraqi forces in such operations as counter-insurgency and border security, Middle East Newsline reported.
"The agreement is that the first troops would leave in late 2005," a source said. "The number of troops and withdrawal timetable would depend on operational considerations."
The agreement was reached during talks between U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon on Jan. 24. The London-based Guardian daily reported Hoon agreed to recommendations by a retired U.S. general, Gary Luck, on the use of Western advisers to help accelerate Iraqi military and police training.
Earlier, the Pentagon said it planned to maintain about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq until 2007. But the diplomatic sources said Hoon and Rumsfeld agreed that coalition troop levels would be reduced in late 2005.
The sources said the first milestone to the effectiveness of Iraqi troops was the national elections on Jan. 30.
On Sunday, at least eight million Iraqis turned out to vote in Iraq's first free elections in 50 years in spite of insurgency attacks and bombs.
At least 44 people were reported killed around the country and in some parts of the predominantly Sunni region where insurgency attacks have been rampant, polling stations were empty.
The next marker would be a referendum for the Iraqi constitution on Aug. 15. This would be followed by another round of national elections on Dec. 15.
"After these three milestones, the Iraqi military and security forces will be largely on their own," a diplomatic source said. "The coalition will train and help equip them, but most of the fighting will be done by Iraqis."
[Up to 14 British military personnel and an Australian airman died on Sunday when a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane crashed northwest of Baghdad. The cause of the crash is being investigated. Later, a U.S. Marine was killed in clashes with insurgents in Iraq's western Anbar province. On Monday, the Iraqi militant group Ansar Al Islam claimed responsibility for downing the plane. In a statement Ansar Al Islam said that it tracked the Hercules "which was flying at a low altitude, and fired an anti-tank missile at it."]
Under the plan, the sources said, Britain would be the first to significantly reduce its forces in Iraq. Britain has about 30,000 troops in Iraq and Hoon agreed to replace many of the troops with civilian trainers.
The sources said that for the last six months Britain has pressed the United States for an exit strategy. They said the agreement reached by Hoon and Rumsfeld set the stage of a withdrawal of coalition troops by or in 2006 regardless of whether Iraqi forces can fend for themselves.
"We clearly know that Iraqi security forces need to mature further," U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid said.
Abizaid, speaking after a closed two-hour briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 26, said the amount of training that will be required and the number of coalition forces to carry it out is still to be determined.
A key element in the U.S.-British agreement, the sources said, was a redeployment of coalition forces in Iraq during 2005. The redeployment would transfer full authority to Iraqi military and security forces in at least 14 of the nation's 18 provinces.
At that point, the coalition would focus on training and mentoring Iraqi forces to assume responsibility for the four remaining provinces. They are expected to comprise Anbar, Baghdad, Ninveh and Salaheddin.
"The feeling is that the Bush administration still has political support for a significant military presence in Iraq in 2006," a Western diplomat said. "Britain wants a withdrawal much faster and Hoon reached an agreement to begin movement on this issue already this year."