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2009-03-26

Report: Despite Obama’s Vow, Combat Brigades Will Stay in Iraq

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Gareth Porter, investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy.

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Nearly four weeks ago, President Obama declared that US combat operations would end in Iraq by August 2010. Despite Obama’s pledge, new evidence has emerged that the US plans to keep combat brigades in Iraq, but they will operate under a different name. Investigative reporter Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service reveals some of the brigade combat teams currently in Iraq will stay beyond August 2010 and will be renamed so-called “advisory and assistance brigades.” [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, we’d like to bring into this conversation the other major conflict in that part of the world: the war in Iraq. Nearly four weeks ago, President Obama declared that US combat operations would end in Iraq by August of 2010.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As a candidate for president, I made clear my support for a timeline of sixteen months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and to protect our troops. These consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next eighteen months. So let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31st, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Under President Obama’s plan, all combat troops will be pulled from Iraq but a transition force of up to 50,000 will remain after August of 2010. Despite the President’s pledge, new evidence has emerged that the US plans to keep combat brigades in Iraq, but they will operate under a different name.

AMY GOODMAN:

Investigative reporter Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service has revealed some of the brigade combat teams currently in Iraq will stay beyond August 2010 and will be renamed so-called “advisory and assistance brigades.”

Gareth Porter joins us with Pratap Chatterjee here in New York. His latest article is called “Despite Obama’s Vow, Combat Brigades Will Stay In Iraq.” So, Gareth Porter, how do you know this? And what exactly is the plan, as you understand it?

GARETH PORTER:

Well, the evidence of this plan to continue to keep combat brigades in Iraq past the August 31st deadline is very clear from looking into the military planning that has been done with regard to the brigade combat teams, the basic combat organization of the US Army in Iraq for the past six years. So I basically began to talk to some of the people who’ve been close to the military planning, specifically in the US Army, over the past few months. And there’s no secret about this, in fact.

What’s happening is that the basic combat organization in Iraq, the brigade combat team, is going to be slightly revamped by adding a few dozen, perhaps more than that, officers who will be doing the advising and assistance directly with the Iraqi military and police, perhaps some other institutions, as well — it’s not clear — but they will be added on top of the existing brigade combat team, rather than having any fundamental change in the structure of those organizations in Iraq. So, what we have is the same combat potential, same combat organization, which will remain on the ground in Iraq.

Now, there will be some drawdown. There’s no doubt about that. But the promise that President Obama made on February 27th that all combat brigades would be withdrawn from Iraq, that simply is not true. It’s not going to happen.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

In other words, we’re not dealing with a situation that most people associate with non-combat troops, like engineers or construction units that are involved in some kind of infrastructure work. These are actually combat units, just renamed.

GARETH PORTER:

Well, that’s exactly right. I mean, it’s not even that there is going to be military advisers who will be out in the field, you know, with the Iraqi units, which I think everyone understood would be the case. When they decided to call these now — they’re renaming the brigade combat teams the “advisory and assistance brigades.” So, I mean, that’s the — it’s the sleight of hand administratively that is being used now to cover the fact that essentially nothing has changed except the addition of, as I say, a few — a relative handful of advisers who will be added to the structures that already exist. But it’s not just people out in the field advising. It’s going to be the same infantry units. The same infantry companies that exist today in Iraq will still be there when the United States is supposedly bringing its combat troops or its combat brigades home.

AMY GOODMAN:

Gareth Porter, I wanted to play for you a comment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. On March 1st, he appeared on Meet the Press and was asked about the 50,000 troops President Obama plans to keep in Iraq after August 2010.

    ROBERT GATES: They do have a very different mission, but that mission will be principally a training assistance advisory role. There will be a limited counterterrorism operations aspect to it, and we will still have some soldiers embedded with Iraqi units as part of the training effort. But it’s a very different kind of arrangement, and our soldiers will be consolidated into a limited number of bases in order to provide protection for themselves and for civilians who are out working in the Iraqi neighborhoods and countryside, as well. They will be called “advisory and assistance brigades.” They won’t be called “combat brigades.”

AMY GOODMAN:

Gareth Porter?

GARETH PORTER:

Well, of course, this was a very broad hint about what was to come. That is to say, he was essentially broadcasting, indirectly, without saying so explicitly, that the plan was to rename the brigade combat teams “advisory and assistance brigades,” a term that does not have “combat” in it, in order to suggest that there’s been a fundamental change in the structure of the units that are being deployed in Iraq. And, of course, it’s the — quite the opposite, in fact.

So, the real question here is, is why the corporate news media did not pick up on this obvious hint and begin to look into this question and report what the real plan was for relabeling these units as non-combat units, which are in fact going to continue to be combat units. In fact, what is really interesting here is that last December, as I point out in my article, the New York Times published an article which reported on planning that was being done in the Pentagon to re-label the existing units, combat units, in Iraq as non-combat units, and this was going to be, as the Times reported, a way in which the military could appeal to Obama to carry out his campaign promise, but still continue to keep combat brigades in Iraq.

So, this is exactly what has happened, but what’s interesting is that there’s been absolutely no reporting, until my story published yesterday, on the fact that this prediction by the New York Times back in December has now been realized.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Pratap Chatterjee, I’d like to ask you also about the issue of military contractors in Iraq, and obviously they’re also in Afghanistan in extensive numbers. And you were saying in the break, you were seeing comparisons with some of the same problems in the United States’ occupations in both countries.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE:

Well, in addition to the troops that Gareth mentioned, there are civilian police trainers, and there are civilian army military trainers, who accompany, you know, Afghan units in Afghanistan and Iraqi units in Iraq, and they do training on the ground. And so, they are looking — in fact, the CEO of DynCorp, in his last investor call about a month ago, said, “We’re looking forward to actually a lot more work in Afghanistan based on what’s happening.” This is in February of 2009. So, the contractors are expecting a boom, because they expect to augment the military training teams.

They do this, as I mentioned, their Focused District Development training scheme in Iraq — in, I’m sorry, in Afghanistan. It’s actually sometimes very hard to keep these training schemes separated, because when you look at them, it’s the same trainers, it’s the same companies, and in fact, interesting enough, when you look at the GAO reports, the Department of Defense Inspector General reports, the same problems, whether you look, you know, at Fallujah or Najaf and the training problems that they had back in 2003 or the problems they’re having today in Khost, in Pakistan-Afghanistan. The same problems keep recurring. I keep thinking I’m reading a report about Iraq from 2003. Now I’ve suddenly realized I’m reading a GAO report from 2008.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, this issue of a continued policy from Iraq, which President Obama condemned — I mean, he was opposed to the war in Iraq, to Afghanistan. Gareth Porter, I wanted to ask you about this. I was on a flight from Grand Rapids this past weekend, and I sat next to a military consultant, been in the military for a long time, then aerospace industry, now a consultant. And he said, “Yes, this is great for the military contractors, the war.” But he said, as an American, he is baffled by President Obama pushing this surge and expanded war in Afghanistan. He said he is shocked by it, as many in the military are. And I wanted to ask you, Gareth, about, well, Lieutenant General Eikenberry, who has been nominated to be the US ambassador to Afghanistan. He is the former top US commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, now would be the main diplomatic representative for the United States.

GARETH PORTER:

Yes, this is part of a trend not simply to have high-ranking military officers play some of the key policy roles and even diplomatic roles in the Obama administration. Of course, there’s James Jones as the National Security Adviser, as well as the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair. But in the case of Eikenberry as the new ambassador in Afghanistan, this is disturbing for more than one reason. He is both a very enthusiastic supporter of the idea that this should be a NATO affair in Afghanistan, that this should be a NATO war, and one of those who has been pushing the idea that unless NATO can show success in Afghanistan —

AMY GOODMAN:

We have ten seconds, Gareth.

GARETH PORTER:

—- then it’s not -— it’s going to be in serious trouble as an institution. So there’s a question of whether some of these people are pushing the war, in part, at least, because of their affiliation, affinity to NATO.

AMY GOODMAN:

Gareth Porter and Pratap Chatterjee, I want to thank you very much both for being with us.

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