The Campaign Spot

If We’re Leaving Iraq by Mid-2011, Why Are We Training Iraqi Pilots in 2012?

The great Eli Lake notices something in U.S.-Iraqi military relations that suggests that the16-month deadline might be even more malleable than we thought:

As President Obama weighs options for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq, the country’s military is purchasing American helicopters, cargo planes and tanks equipment that typically requires a prolonged U.S. presence for maintenance and training.

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, who is in charge of training Iraq’s security services and military, told The Washington Times that some of the ordered equipment would not be delivered until 2012, even though a new status of forces agreement (SOFA) requires all U.S. troops to exit the country by 2011.

Gen. Helmick said the Iraqi military had already ordered 140 M1 Abrams tanks, up to 24 Bell Assault Reconnaissance helicopters and 6 C130-J transport airplanes. The tanks will not be delivered until 2011, and the helicopters and transport planes will not arrive until the end of 2012 or possibly in 2013.

“The government of Iraq does not have to purchase that kind of equipment from the United States; they have elected to do so,” Gen. Helmick said. “To me that could indicate that the Iraqis would like to have a long-term strategic relationship with the United States.”

The current SOFA does not include a provision for troops remaining to train and equip the Iraqi army.

Now, it’s possible we’ll have U.S. military folks doing training and maintenance there, in a way that doesn’t contradict Obama’s pledge to remove all combat troops within 16 months.

Lake also notes that the Iraqi defense minister, visiting Seoul, South Korea, declared, “the South Korean military is a model to follow.” South Korea is a country where the U.S. has 24,000 troops stationed.

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