Odierno: Troops could remain in Iraq beyond 2011

Holly Bailey

The top U.S. commander in Iraq said there's a chance American troops could remain there beyond next year's planned withdrawal, but suggested combat operations would only resume if there was a "complete failure" of Iraq's security forces.

"It would have to be something that would change the strategic dynamic for us to move back to combat operations," Odierno told CNN's "State of the Union." "I really believe we're beyond that point."

Last week, the United States withdrew the last of its 4,000 combat troops in Iraq. Another 50,000 are scheduled to remain until the end of next year to train Iraqi security forces, protect American military facilities and personnel and assist in counterterrorism operations. But amid concerns about the readiness of Iraqi security forces, Odierno acknowledged Sunday that some troops could remain after that deadline.

"If the government of Iraq requests some technical assistance in fielding, systems that allow them to continue to protect themselves, some external threats, we could be here," Odierno said, citing similar strategic American troop presence in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. "If that's what we are talking about, potentially, we could be there beyond 2011."

But Odierno insisted the Iraqi forces are ready to take over when the United States leaves. "My assessment today is they will be," he said. "They continue to grow. We continue to see development in planning, in their ability to conduct operations . . . . The Iraqi people are resilient. They want this. They want to have a democratic country. They want to be on their own."

Odierno's comments came as the White House announced Sunday that President Obama plans to give what administration officials described as a "major speech" on Iraq after he returns to Washington from vacation on Aug. 29.

(Photo of Odierno by Karim Kadim/AP)