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Odierno: Plan to thin out troops in Iraq on schedule

From Mike Mount, CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
  • The United States has had as many as 170,000 troops in Iraq
  • That will be down to 50,000 by September 1
  • Odierno: The troop reduction is going without trouble
  • U.S. forces are changing their role from combat operations to mainly training Iraqi forces

Washington (CNN) -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Wednesday that the United States is still on track to draw down its troops to 50,000 by September 1, when the U.S. will cease combat operations and change its mission to mainly training Iraqi forces.

Gen. Raymond Odierno said the reduction of forces by 75,000 since January 2009 is going on without trouble and that some 20,000 U.S. military vehicles have been moved to the Afghan theater of battle where they are needed.

At the peak of its involvement, the United States had about 170,000 troops in the country in an effort to gain control of an insurgency that had spun wildly out of control.

But as U.S. forces change the name of the military operation from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn on September 1, Odierno said they will be keeping 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq until they must leave at the end of 2011.

"Operation New Dawn does not change the level of U.S. commitment to Iraq; it changes the nature of our commitment, (from) one that is military-dominated to a civilian-led commitment," Odierno told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

While there is still plenty of violence, Odierno said high-profile attacks in the first six months of 2010 have decreased by nearly 50 percent since the same time last year.

But despite warnings of increased violence as the United States reduces its presence and the Iraqi government continues to struggle to organize after the March elections, the withdrawal plan will continue as projected, according to Odierno.

"It's important that we live up to our commitment; it's important to them [the Iraqis] that they see that there is progress being made ... I believe it is in the best interest of our mission," he said.

Odierno admitted there is an undercurrent of concern in Iraq because negotiations have failed to form a new government.

"There's uneasiness in Iraq because of how long it's taking, but there's not been any degradation in security and stability," he said.

"I would be concerned if there's not a government formed by October," Odierno said.