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General: End of combat role does not mean end to fighting

Retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt says the Iraqi military is capable of handling security challenges.
Retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt says the Iraqi military is capable of handling security challenges.
  • All fighting unlikely to stop, retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt says
  • Iraqi forces have been taking the lead for two years, he says
  • Sacrifices of blood and resources were worthwhile, Kimmitt says
  • Change of mission in Iraq should improve capabilities in Afghanistan, he says

(CNN) -- The last U.S. combat brigade has pulled out of Iraq, but does that mean the more than 50,000 American troops who will remain there will never fire a shot or come under attack?

A total end to violence seems unlikely, retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt warns. But Kimmitt, a former assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, says Iraq's military forces are ready to handle their country's security challenges and protect the American advisers.

Kimmitt weighed in on the situation Thursday on CNN's "American Morning."

CNN: How vulnerable are we leaving Iraq -- and our remaining troops -- as new spasms of violence occur?

Kimmitt: The question is not whether there will be a total elimination of security incidents or not. The fundamental question is: Can the Iraqi security forces manage the process without needing American assistance?

Yes, there will be low levels of violence even with a fully competent Iraqi security force. But even with 170,000 American forces, there were low levels of violence there as well. The Iraqis are saying, "We can handle it now without American assistance," and I believe that to be the case.

CNN: Are you concerned that the U.S. troops who remain in Iraq as trainers and adviser are at greater risk because of their smaller numbers?

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Kimmitt: I'm pretty comfortable on the combat capability of the Iraqi security forces. They have demonstrated, over the past couple of years, increasing levels of competence. And I believe the military commanders on the ground judge them to be ready to take over that responsibility in its entirety.

So our remaining troops, who are in fact combat capable but in a support role, I think they're in pretty good shape. And the situation's in pretty good shape for the moment.

CNN: How much of a change in their work will the remaining American forces see?

Kimmitt: Well, first, many people think that the U.S. forces have been engaged in tough combat over the last couple of years. In fact, the Iraqi forces have been in the lead. It has been a gradual process of just handing complete combat responsibility over to the Iraqis.

While that's been going on, there has been an advisory and an assistance mission, which the 50,000 troops that are remaining will [continue]. They'll work inside of the Iraqi units, providing assistance, military mentoring, and that will continue for another year and a half.

CNN: In 7½ years of war in Iraq, we have seen more than 4,400 troops killed and more than $600 billion spent. Has it been worth it? Have we achieved our goals?

Kimmitt: Well, we'll never be able to simply tell the American people that the loss of any life is worthwhile. But what I would say is, let's take a look at where Iraq is today. It's a democratic state, a friend to its neighbors, no longer a threat to the United States.

Those soldiers who have sacrificed for the last 7½ years, some who have given their lives, I think they can look back and realize that they left Iraq in a much better position over the last 7½ years by their presence than had they not been there.

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CNN: Were there missed opportunities? Were there things that could have been done differently that would have left us with the same overall impact in Iraq but with less cost and less time?

Kimmitt: Look, I think as you look at any military campaign over history, looking back, yes, there are places and opportunities that were missed: Battle of the Bulge, significant intelligence miscalculations in the Korean War.

Sure, we'd like to do it over again. We'd like to do it over better. But I think that that's just the nature of warfare. And you're going find that in any historical example, not just Iraq.

CNN: What does the change in mission in Iraq mean for the ongoing operation in Afghanistan?

Kimmitt: Well, that's still going to be a tough fight. But what reducing the force levels in Iraq does is, number one, it provides more dwell time for soldiers back with their families. We've been looking at setting up a program where [troops will have] one year in combat, two years at home. By having less of a burden inside of Iraq, that may be achieved.

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Second, it also frees up critical assets that have been used in Iraq that now can add to those that are already in Afghanistan.

So I think overall the net effect will be a positive one for Afghanistan and for our mission there.