21 February 2007
Reducing Coalition Troops in Southern Iraq Is Sign of Success
White House says British plans to withdraw some forces indicate progress
Washington – The White House calls British plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq another sign of progress in the coalition’s strategy to strengthen Iraqi security forces.
“President Bush sees this as a sign of success and what is possible for us once we help the Iraqis deal with the sectarian violence in Baghdad,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters February 21.
In a February 21 speech in Britain’s House of Commons, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that his government would withdraw 1,600 troops from its current contribution to the U.S.-led coalition of 7,100 soldiers and Marines based in Iraq’s southern Shiite-majority Basra province in the coming months. Additional reductions, he said, would be possible later in 2007 as security conditions continued to improve.
The same day, Denmark announced that it would withdraw its 460 troops deployed with British forces and Lithuania said it was considering a similar drawdown.
These reductions, White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters, illustrate the coalition’s success in its strategy of training and mentoring the new Iraq’s security forces to serve and protect its citizens.
“The fact [coalition forces] have made some progress on the ground is going to enable them to move some of the forces out, and that’s ultimately the kind of thing that we want to be able to see throughout Iraq,” Snow said.
Thousands of British forces would remain in the region, Snow said, further retooling their mission by embedding advisers with Iraqi army, police and border guard units as they achieve greater self-sufficiency.
“I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,” Vice President Cheney said February 21 during an official visit to Japan.
The announcements came as 21,500 U.S. troops are being deployed to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and to al-Anbar province. The vast majority of violence in Iraq, say military experts, is centered within this area, which points to a very different mission for U.S. forces, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Germany, February 21.
“The threats are more complicated. You have an al-Qaida threat in the area in al-Anbar province, you have of course, the particular brand of sectarian violence in Baghdad,” Rice said.
The new U.S. security strategy, Rice said, would bring the right mix of military and diplomatic tools to help Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki further his agenda of political reconciliation central to building Iraqi democracy. (See related article.)
“The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole, which is to be able to transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis, as conditions permit,” she said.
For more information, see Iraq Update.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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