US commander spells out Iraq mission under new pact
A top US military commander says the new security pact that sets a timetable for American troops to leave Iraq will require a shift in how the US carries out combat missions in the country.
A statement by Gen. Ray Odierno released Friday says that new rules of engagement will be issued for US troops in Iraq.
He says there will be no change in their ability to protect themselves from direct threats.
But Odierno says that under the new rules, US troops will be required to carry out all operations together with Iraqi security forces. He also says troops will be able to engage in combat operations with the approval of the Iraqi government.
The security pact states that US troops must leave Iraq by January 1, 2012.
"US forces will continue to be authorised to engage in combat operations," General Raymond Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq, wrote in a letter to the troops.
"However, under the terms of the new agreement, we will coordinate and execute those operations with the approval of the (Iraqi government), and we will conduct all operations by, with, and through the Iraqi security forces."
The pact -- which will take effect when the troops' UN mandate expires at the end of the month -- will grant Iraq veto power over virtually all US operations.
"We will continue to focus on combating al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, but we must do so with respect for the Iraqi constitution and laws," Odierno wrote.
"But there will not be any reduction in our fundamental ability to protect ourselves and the force," he added.
The roughly 150,000 US troops stationed in 400 bases across Iraq will be required to withdraw from all Iraqi towns and cities by the end of June 2009.
But the agreement allows for a faster drawdown and US President-elect Barack Obama vowed during the presidential campaign to withdraw virtually all US troops from Iraq within 16 months.
Iraq may also seek to amend the agreement after a popular referendum on the deal is held next summer. The pact can be amended by mutual consent and unilaterally terminated by either side with one year's notice.
Earlier US Defence Secretary Robert Gates called Thursday for the military to develop an enduring capacity to fight "irregular" wars, and to rethink its reliance on ever more costly high-tech weapons.
Writing in Foreign Affairs quarterly, Gates said the United States needs "a military whose ability to kick down the door is matched by its ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterward."
"What is dubbed the war on terror is, in grim reality, a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign -- a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation," he wrote.
Published just days after president-elect Barack Obama asked Gates to stay on at the Pentagon, his article coincided with a new Defence Department directive that puts the fight against terrorism and guerrilla warfare on the same footing as conventional warfare for the first time.
"It is DoD (Department of Defence) policy to recognise that IW (irregular warfare) is as strategically important as traditional warfare," the directive states.
The Pentagon directive defined irregular warfare as encompassing counter-terrorism operations, guerrilla warfare, foreign internal defence, counter-insurgency and stability operations.
Gates used the article to push irregular warfare to the centre of a military institution that historically has preferred to focus on fighting big, conventional wars.
Outside of the special forces community and some dissident colonels, there has never been strong institutional support for irregular warfare.