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US Involvement In Iraq Uncompromising, Eight Years In

Aaron Liu |
March 18, 2011 | 9:51 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Even after President Barack Obama's declaration August 31, 2010 that combat missions in Iraq were over, the United States continues to finds itself significantly invested in determining the war-torn nation's unwary future.

While the majority of American forces have left Iraq, 50,000 U.S. soldiers remain stationed as “advisory and assistance brigades” (or AABs), training a still-maturing Iraqi Security Force (ISF) while simultaneously prepping equipment to be shipped either to the U.S. or to operations in Afghanistan. They serve under the pretenses of a military strategy dubbed “Operation New Dawn” – a name which signifies the military's desire to break away from the previous nature of US efforts.

Doubts pervade as to whether Iraqi Security Forces can hold their own. (Creative Commons)
Doubts pervade as to whether Iraqi Security Forces can hold their own. (Creative Commons)
“The transition to Operation New Dawn...marks the official end to Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations by United States forces in Iraq,” stated a blog maintained by the US Army. “Operation New Dawn...represents a shift from a predominantly military U.S. presence to one that is predominantly civilian.”

This shift towards “advisory and assistance” – training an Iraqi army while slowly drawing down U.S. presence – works to prepare the military for a speedy withdrawal at the end of 2011.

“The goal is to not leave a big footprint behind,”  wrote a soldier in an e-mail, “so we take out what we bring in.” The soldier, who is currently deployed, wished to remain anonymous. 

But in declaring an end to “combat operations,” the U.S. may be drawing superficial lines. While U.S. casualties have dropped drastically since the military's shift in strategy, a handful of soldiers still find themselves involved in the operation far beyond an advisory/auxiliary role. Since September, approximately 21 servicemen have died, nine of them “in combat.” Furthermore, under the U.S. status of forces agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, the U.S. military retains the “inherent right to self-defense and are authorized to take necessary action to prevent terrorist activities in order to protect themselves or the people of Iraq” – further skewing the notion that combat endeavors are indeed a thing of the past. 

“Honestly, there are still combat missions,” wrote the soldier, in reference to Obama's declaration. “In my opinion, if you are getting blown up and/or shot at, you are in a combat zone.”

Still, the soldier was clear to note a distinction between fleeting violence and the nature of general day-to-day activities. “On convoys, it sucks because you don't know if today is your lucky day or not. Base, on the other hand, is like heaven.”

Sporadic instances of violence aren't the only concern dogging Operation New Dawn. The preparedness of Iraqi Security Forces to take hold of Iraq's security concerns also sounds alarms for some observers, who ponder whether ISF can truly safeguard the nation's well-being amidst the departure of U.S. forces. 

While ISF has taken helm of counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts in Iraq, questions persist as to ISF's long term ability to act as a cohesive force. In January, US officials stated  “corruption within within the ISF has hindered development and led to the inefficient allocation of human and fiscal resources, as well as the absence of a requirements-driven planning process for the maintenance of security and infrastructure and equipment.” 

They also noted that the majority of Iraqi forces had not attained “Minimum Essential Capability” – the ability to provide internal security and defend against external threats.

Economic woes also hinder the effectiveness of the ISF, as a lack of jobs entails more soldiers signing up for duty solely to make ends meet.

“You can't always trust the Iraqi army or the Iraqi police,” wrote the soldier. “They're in an economic downfall like we are; some of them will do anything for a pretty penny.”

With doubts regarding Iraq's ability to address its own security and infrastructural issues, some muse that the U.S. might end up disregarding the 2011 withdrawal date all together. As noted by NPR March 1:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently told Congress that talks about extending the deadline are ongoing. One congressman suggested there could be 20,000 troops in Iraq next year, down from the roughly 50,000 now.

Reach reporter Aaron Liu here.

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