"One thing has not changed in Iraq--our fighting forces on the ground represent the most combat effective, courageous, and well-led military capability we have ever fielded. This may be insufficiently understood and valued by those who monitor this conflict. Their casualties are a fraction that we should expect given the level of cunning and firepower that has targeted them with automatic weapons fire, mortar and rocket attacks, RPG strikes, the greatly feared suicide bombers, and remotely detonated improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. We currently lose a battalion a month of soldiers and Marines killed, wounded and injured. Our troops remain confident and demonstrate incredible bravery and restraint. Their sergeants, lieutenants, and captains are in many cases now in their third combat tour since 9/11. The in-country re-enlistment rate is sky-high in elite units like the Army's Third Infantry Division (250% of objective). This U.S. fighting force in Iraq of 140,000 troops (more than half of whom are National Guard and Reserve Forces) is the crown jewel of our national security guarantee to the American people in the war on terror."
"Two new realities have emerged since the successful elections of the Iraqi interim government. First, the Iraqi Security Force (ISF) is now real and appearing in great numbers (169,000 police and army). They have real equipment (automatic weapons, some tanks and armored personnel carriers, personal body armor, light trucks, radios), and the beginnings of a national command and control and logistics system. They are increasingly well prepared for operations by the national training system created by the incredibly talented Lt. Gen. Dave Petraeus.
Many of these forces (perhaps 60,000 plus) are now operating in the cities and rural areas of Iraq and confronting the insurgency with courage and resolve. The ISF has taken horrendous casualties--600 killed and 1,800 wounded since the election. The losses have deepened their commitment. Recruiting has gotten easier--not more difficult. By next summer there will be 250,000 Iraqis in the uniforms of their Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry Police. The Iraqi units that I observed in training and action are patriots with a commitment to creating a new Iraq. I don't use these words lightly--the creation of the ISF is the crux of the war. In my view, these ISF units by next summer may well allow a significant drawdown of a third or more of the deployed U.S. forces.
Finally, in my judgment, the Sunni population (20% of Iraq) that enslaved and ruined Iraq over the past 35 years has now collectively decided they made a fundamental misjudgment in sitting out the last election. In my view, if the constitutional process can be nurtured to a successful conclusion and allow elections of a new government in December--then we will see the high point of the insurgency pass this coming January. The energy will begin to drain out of the violent maelstrom of Iraq and by the fall of 2006 we will see the beginnings of a stable and viable Iraqi state.
This will continue to be hard work in Iraq. Progress will be nonlinear. Casualties will be a trailing indicator of successful political integration. Iraq will be bloody at least through the coming summer even given the positive findings I believe are likely. To succeed, we must sustain both a robust U.S. military presence and continuing significant U.S. taxpayer economic support to develop Iraq's infrastructure for the coming three to five years. If we adopt a publicly articulated "exit strategy," we risk reversion to a bloody civil war that will destroy all that we have accomplished through the great daring and courage of the military, State Department and CIA interagency team."
"We must achieve our purpose in both Afghanistan and Iraq of building viable, law-based, nonthreatening states which allow American military withdrawal. There is no reason why we cannot carry out our aim. Failure would be a disaster for U.S. foreign policy and economic interests for the next 20 years. Our troops in the face of danger are now growing worried--will the American people sustain them to achieve victory or ignore their struggles on the frontier of the war on terror?
Now is the time for nonpartisan, collective leadership to support and guide our strategy in the ongoing operations in Southwest Asia. Lack of political will and clarity will surely snatch failure from the impending realization of our objectives if we do not act to support those who have given so much to America's defense."