Baghdad, Mar.27 (ANI): The commander of ground forces in Iraq has said that US troops may extend their stay in the Iraqi cities of Baquba and Mosul beyond the June 2009 deadline.
A Christian Science Monitor report quoted US Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, as saying that the planned pullback of American soldiers from all Iraqi cities by the end of June will probably not be fully met.
Austin further claimed that Iraqi officials are likely to ask for US help in the key cities of Baquba and Mosul, meaning that American troops may stay there after the deadline for redeployment to major bases.
Senior military commanders say US troops will also likely stay on in the southern city of Basra.
"In Mosul and Diyala (Province), as we do a combined or joint assessment of the situation on the ground, I have every expectation that both sides will say we need to stay with this a little bit longer until this improves," says Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, echoing sentiments of Iraqi officials concerned about ongoing fighting in those areas.
While US forces are to hand over combat missions to Iraqis by August 31, Iraqi forces likely won't be able to operate completely on their own until the end of 2011, when American forces are scheduled to be out of Iraq altogether, says the senior US ground commander in Iraq.
"I think the Iraqis know that there are some things that have to occur before we leave. They know that there are some capabilities that they have to develop. I think they'll be up to task when we do leave by 2011," Lt. Gen. Austin, who leaves in April after 15 months of overseeing the day-to-day running of the war, said.
He also said that security in Iraq is far less fragile than it was a year ago but that sustainable and lasting security means more than a drop in attacks.
Austin played a key role in the US military taking Baghdad when he was deputy commander-maneuvers for the 3rd Infantry Division, leading a charge into Baghdad with fewer forces than most thought possible.
An imposing-looking but soft-spoken man who avoids the limelight, he earned a Silver Star for his role in the battle - rare enough for soldiers on the front lines but even more uncommon for general officers. It's an award he describes as a collective achievement:
"I think it was one of the most incredible things our military has ever done. With literally two divisions - an Army division and a Marine division - we fought our way forward and liberated a city of six million people. If you lay that out and asked someone to talk about whether that's possible, most folks would tell you that's not possible," he said. (ANI)