BAGHDAD, Iraq – The top US general in Iraq on Wednesday said he believes Iraqi security forces can take over security with little Coalition support within a year to 18 months.
"I don't have a date, but I can see over the next 12 to 18 months, the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support," Gen. George Casey said in Baghdad.
That would not mean that the United States would be withdrawing any troops, and such a plan is part of a wider strategy to gradually hand over security responsibilities to the Iraqis. It is part of the overall US exit strategy from Iraq.
Although the United States has made its strategy public, U.S. officials rarely mention dates or details.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already said that Iraqi army and police plan to take over security for all of Iraq's provinces within the next 18 months.
America's overall strategy calls for the U.S.-led coalition forces to redeploy to larger bases and let Iraqis become responsible for their security in specific regions.
The larger bases can act in a support or reserve role. A final stage, in the undetermined future, would involve the drawdown of troops from Iraq.
"We have been on a three-step process to help build the Iraqi security forces," Casey told a small group of reporters.
He said the first was training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, the second was to "put them in the lead,' still with our support."
"And when they're in the lead, they're responsible for the areas, and we still help them. That process is almost 75 percent complete," he said.
Casey added that the last step "is get them to the stage where they independently provide security in Iraq."
That step, according to Casey, was to build institutional capacity along with logistics, intelligence, medical support that "that can support and sustain the armed forces in place for a longer period of time."