January 15th, 2007 22:43 EST
Casey: First Additional U.S. Troops Arrive in Baghdad to Support New Plan
The first additional U.S. troops who will take part in new security operations in Iraq have arrived in Baghdad, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said today.
“The initial elements of the first group are here," George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad. Casey did not specify the number of troops who had arrived or give any indication when security operations would begin.
The added U.S. troops will support the Iraqi-led operation, he said. U.S. and Iraqi officials are trying to work out command details to put Iraqis in control, with U.S. troops backing them up, he said.
Casey emphasized that security Baghdad is a key element of the overall plan and that the U.S. is committed to helping the Iraqis succeed there.
“I will remind everyone that I have consistently said that I will ask for the troops I need to accomplish the mission, and that I will do what it takes to help the Iraqis succeed,” he said. “And that is what we’re doing with this plan.”
The new plan has more Iraqi buy-in than in the past, Casey said. “It is Iraqi-conceived and will be Iraqi-led, not only on the security side, but on the political, economic and media/public affairs side,” he said.
Although the Iraqis will lead the plan, “American forces will remain under American command, period -- no issues,” Casey said. He acknowledged that the more troops who serve in Iraq, the greater the risk of casualties, but said U.S. troops “won't be put at risk because of the command relationships.”
Casey said U.S. and Iraqis together have committed sufficient security forces to ensure the plan succeeds.
The timetable for introducing additional U.S. forces into Iraq will enable the coalition and Iraqis “to sustain momentum, reinforce success and evaluate progress as we go,” Casey said. The plan offers flexibility and a statement of U.S. commitment to the Iraqi people, he said.
Ultimately, the Iraqi security forces will be the ones to secure Iraq, and key to reaching that goal is ensure the United States continues to focus on training those troops, the general said. “So, in support of that mission, we will also be enhancing our military transition teams,” he said. That will include doubling or even tripling the teams’ size to speed the effort forward, Casey said.
Casey made the point that the security plan would not be limited to Baghdad alone. He said it would go all the way to the Iraqi border "in order to stop the infiltration of terrorists."
U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who also spoke at the news conference, said Iraq’s neighbors must change their behavior. “We will target these networks in the hope of and expectation of changing the behavior of the states to get them to be more positive towards this country that's in transition that is going through a difficult period,” he said.
Casey said he trusted the Iraqi government would "purge" members of its security forces that are loyal to militias and non-Iraqi groups.
While expressing confidence that the new plan can succeed, Casey warned the Iraqi public not to expect an instant improvement in Baghdad’s security. “As with any plan, there are no guarantees of success, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “But with sustained political support and concentrated efforts on all sides, I believe that this plan can work.”
In closing, Casey praised the job the U.S. military has been performing in Iraq. “I'd like to remind the American people about the magnificent job that the men and women of their armed forces are doing over here in a very tough environment,” he said. “You can be proud of what they're doing to bring peace and stability to Iraq, and in doing so bringing peace and security to the United States of America.”
(Donna Miles contributed to this article.)