Honolulu: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the US is looking to a long-term military presence in Iraq under a mutually agreed arrangement similar to that it has long had with South Korea.
Gates told reporters here that plans still call for an assessment of the US “surge” strategy in September but he was looking beyond that to the type of military presence the US will have in Iraq over the long term.
“What I’m thinking in terms of is a mutual agreement where some force of Americans -- mutually agreed with mutually agreed missions -- is present for a protracted period of time,” he said.
Gates, who was visiting the US Pacific Command here on the way to security talks in Singapore, pointed to South Korea, contrasting it to Vietnam “where we just left lock, stock and barrel.”
US troops have been in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, with US generals in charge of combined US-South Korean forces in time of war.
“The idea is more a model of a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence but under the consent of both parties and under certain conditions,” he said.
“The Korea model is one, the security relationship we have with Japan is another,” he said.
President George W. Bush also has alluded to the strategy shift in talking about a “Plan B-H,” that would incorporate recommendations from a commission head by former secretary of state James Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton.
The Baker-Hamilton Commission proposed a phased reduction in US forces but leaving a small force to protect Iraq’s borders and fight Al-Qaeda.
At the same time, Gates said US military commanders should not feel constrained by political pressure in Washington for a decision in September on whether to begin reducing US troop levels in Iraq.
Currently, there are about 147,000 US troops in Iraq but the total is expected to swell to about 160,000 over the next could of months.
Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the number two commander in Iraq, earlier told reporters in Washington via video link from Baghdad that he may not be able to make a full assessment by September of whether the buildup is succeeding in stabilizing Iraq.
Odierno said last month that the extra troops will be needed at least through early next year.
Asked about Odierno’s latest comments, Gates said, “I don’t think the goal post has changed really at all.”
“I think he was saying basically that report can go a number of different ways, one of which is ‘I need a little bit more time.´”
“When we receive the report from General (David) Petraeus and General Odierno we want them to focus on what is going on in Iraq,” he said. Petraeus is the top US commander in Iraq.
“Our military commanders should not have to worry about the Washington