London, Aug.12 (ANI): Iraq will need U.S. military support for up to another decade to defend its borders because its army won't be ready to guard the country when American troops leave at the end of 2011, according to U.S. and Iraqi commanders.
The Telegraph quotes commanders as saying they are reasonably confident in the Iraqi security forces' ability to keep order while facing insurgents or other internal threats.
But when it comes to their capacity to protect against attacks from other nations, it is inconceivable that the Iraqi army will be able to stand alone by the time U.S. troops go home, said Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, commander of the U.S. military training program in Iraq.
Lt. Gen. Barbero said he was almost certain that some form of continued U.S. military presence would exist beyond 2011, which for a majority of Americans who want a rapid withdrawal, is a tough proposition.
The gravest concern may be Iraq's inability to defend its airspace in a region bristling with missiles and fighter planes as well as longstanding jealousies and a history of wars involving border disputes.
The Iraqi government placed its first order for 18 U.S. F-16 fighter jets in March, but the earliest they're expected to arrive is 2013.
"I would say we're five years into a 10-15 year program," said Brigadier General Scott Hanson, who heads the U.S. mission in charge of training the Iraqi air force.
An Iraqi Ministry of Defense strategy document projects that Iraq won't be capable of defending its borders until 2020, said the chief of staff of the Iraqi armed forces, Gen. Babakir Zebari.
"In general, Iraqi soldiers and officers would like the American forces to stay in Iraq until they're capable of doing the job 100 percent," he said.
He added: "Not a huge force, just three or four bases."
U.S. officials won't give numbers, saying it will be up to the U.S. and Iraqi governments to negotiate the form and size of any future troop presence.
The current security agreement obligates all U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, and the Iraqi government would have to request a new agreement if it wanted any to stay. (ANI)