US General Warns Against Large Post-2011 Troop Presence in Iraq

Posted September 9th, 2011 at 6:20 am (UTC-5)
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The top U.S. army general says that if the United States keeps a large amount of troops in Iraq past this year's deadline to withdraw, they risk being seen by Iraqis as an “occupation force.”

General Ray Odierno, who took over this week as army chief of staff, did not advocate a specific number of troops to be left in Iraq, but said that a larger military presence in the country could distract the U.S. from its mission of ensuring that Iraqi forces become self-reliant.

On Tuesday, several media reports said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had signed off on a plan to keep 3,000-5,000 troops in the country as part of a training mission, even after the current security agreement with the Iraqi government expires at the end of the year. Panetta later said no decision on troop numbers has been made.

A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department later said that “absolutely no decisions have been made” with respect to the post-2011 U.S. presence in Iraq, dismissing the reports as “pure speculation.”

U.S. officials have said they will consider leaving some troops behind to train Iraqi security forces, but only if Iraq requests it. Iraqi leaders have been slow to issue a decision on the matter.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney earlier this week said negotiations with Iraq are continuing, but that Baghdad has not yet made a request for keeping U.S. troops in the country.

There are currently fewer than 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from 140,000 in 2009.