Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Tuesday that the rise of the Islamic State group could have been prevented if the U.S. had stayed more engaged in the region.
The outgoing officer, who will retire shortly after 39 years of service, told Fox News in an exclusive interview that the U.S. served as an “honest broker” in Iraq prior to President Obama’s decision to pull all troops from the country.
“I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and we got it to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, politics looked like it was heading in the right direction,” Gen. Odierno told Fox. “If we had stayed a little more engaged, I think maybe it might have been prevented.”
The general’s recommendation to keep up to 35,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 was rejected by the Obama administration.
“I never talked directly to the president about it at that time, but I talked to the secretary of defense and I’m sure he relayed all of my thoughts,” the general told Fox.
The Obama administration has consistently argued that it tried to get an updated Status of Forces agreement with Iraq prior to U.S. troops exiting in 2011. Such an agreement would have allowed U.S. military forces to remain in the country.
Leon Panetta, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former secretary of defense, challenged the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts in an op-ed for Time Oct. 1, 2014.
“Privately, the various leadership factions in Iraq all confided that they wanted some U.S. forces to remain as a bulwark against sectarian violence. But none was willing to take that position publicly, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki concluded that any Status of Forces Agreement, which would give legal protection to those forces, would have to be submitted to the Iraqi parliament for approval,” Mr. Panetta said. “That made reaching agreement very difficult given the internal politics of Iraq, but representatives of the Defense and State departments, with scrutiny from the White House, tried to reach a deal.
Mr. Panetta said that the president had leverage with the Iraqis that was not utilized.
“We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence,” the former CIA director said. “My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.”
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