The U.S. Army's top general said Friday that it was too early to tell whether a recent spike in violence in Iraq that has killed hundreds will have an impact on the pace that Washington withdraws its troops from the country.
A string of high-profile bombings since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraqi cities on June 30 has raised questions about whether the country's security forces are capable of protecting the population. The issue is particularly sensitive for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a key U.S. ally who has tied his success to the general improvement in security over the past two years.
Gen. George Casey, the U.S. Army chief of staff, said he expected the security situation in Iraq to continue to "ebb and flow" over the next months and years.
"So I think it is way too early to make any judgments of the impact of some of the recent bombings on the long-term strategy," said Casey during a brief visit to Kuwait's Shuaiba port, which will play a key role in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from neighboring Iraq.
The most deadly recent attack was a string of coordinated bombings last week against government ministries in Baghdad that claimed about 100 lives. There have also been a series of horrific bombings in August by insurgents in northern Iraq hoping to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict.
Despite the spike in violence, Casey said the U.S. military is pushing ahead with its schedule to draw down the 130,000 American troops currently in Iraq.
"We're continuing to project that by about this time next year, our forces there will be down to ... around 50,000 folks," he said.
President Barack Obama has decided to remove all combat troops by the end of August 2010, and must withdraw all troops by the end of 2011 according to a U.S.-Iraqi security pact. The agreement was also the reason for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraqi cities by the end of June.
Casey declined to talk about the exit routes the military will take to move the thousands of U.S. troops and millions of tons of equipment out of Iraq. The military has looked into Jordan and Turkey in addition to Kuwait.
This small oil-rich state has been a major ally of Washington since the 1991 Gulf War that liberated it from a seven-month Iraqi occupation under Saddam Hussein. It was the launch pad for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled him.
Casey arrived at Shuaiba port south of Kuwait City in a Black Hawk helicopter and inspected the facilities and the preparedness of the troops for the drawdown. He said he was "very impressed" with what he saw.
"It is a well-organized effort, and I have every confidence we'll be able to execute the drawdown in Iraq here efficiently and effectively," he said.