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Friday, February 4, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. still upbeat on Iraq's security capabilities

WASHINGTON — Despite Al Qaida mass-casualty strikes, the U.S. military remains confident that Iraq can assume all internal security operations in 2012.


U.S. military commander in Iraq Gen. Lloyd Austin stated that the Iraqi security forces were steadily reducing the level of violence in the country. Austin said this would enable the State Department to assume training and other operations when the U.S. military withdraws at the end of 2011, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Clearly, there is much work left to do," Austin said. "But I am encouraged by the progress Iraq has made in the past few years and believe it will meet its goals if we continue on this sustained path."

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In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 1, Austin and a senior official asserted that Iraq would not face any security gap when the State Department replaces the U.S. military in October. Austin said Iraq's military and security forces, despite heavy pressure, have remained apolitical and increasingly effective.

"I've watched this force develop over time," Austin said. "They began with very little and, if you look at where they are now, it's truly remarkable."

The U.S. military assessment was more optimistic than that of some government departments. The Office of the Special Inspector-General has issued a report that warned of serious gaps in Iraq's military and security forces, including logistics, equipment and discipline.

"They do have the abilities to conduct internal defenses," Austin said.

Instead, Iraq's greatest challenge would be threats from its neighbors. Austin said Iraq would require at least another two years to establish a credible air defense.

U.S. ambassador to Baghdad James Jeffrey said the civilian mission in Iraq would include 17,000 people in 15 locations. Jeffrey said the civilian security presence would be deployed at three defense hubs and three police training centers.

"There has been an extraordinary amount of effort by the military on all locations where we are taking over," Jeffrey said.

The ambassador said the State Department has formed an air wing of 20 aircraft in Iraq. Jeffrey said the fleet would be doubled starting from 2012.

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