Some American troops will remain in Iraqi cities after a June 30 deadline for combat soldiers to leave urban areas, the top U.S. commander said Saturday.
Army Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told reporters that troops who serve on training and mentoring teams would not be included in the mandate to pull combat troops from the cities and towns.
“We believe that’s part of our transition teams,” Odierno said at the U.S. air base in Balad, where he met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. He said the training and mentoring teams would stay at urban security stations to support Iraqi soldiers and police officers.
He did not say how many troops would remain in urban security stations but said all locations would be coordinated with the Iraqi government based on its requirements and needs. He said that he expected to have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
A substantial drawdown is expected in the 149,000-strong U.S. force in the coming year. President-elect Barack Obama pledged during the campaign to remove combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, leaving a smaller residual force through the end of 2011.
But U.S. military officials are concerned there could be an upswing in violence before provincial elections Jan. 31 and parliamentary balloting by the end of 2009.
“It’s important that we maintain enough presence here that we can help them get through this year of transition,” Odierno said. “We don’t want to take a step backwards because we’ve made so much progress here.”
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, meanwhile, dismissed suggestions by his spokesman that the government may ask some U.S. troops to remain as trainers after the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for the withdrawal of all American troops set by the new U.S.-Iraq security agreement.