ABC's Luis Martinez reports:
General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is confident that the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Iraq is on track to be at 50,000 by September and has few concerns about the lack of a new Iraqi government since parliamentary elections took place four months ago.
Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon today that he is hopeful a new Iraqi government might be formed in August prior to Ramadan, but that there are still uncertainties. “Whether it happens next week or two months from now I don't know yet, “ he said. “It’s very complex negotiations that are going on because of the closeness of the election.”
He seemed to indicate that the delay in forming a new government might drag on further into the year, noting he would be concerned if a government was not formed by October.
In September the U.S. military will switch to a non-combat role in Iraq and reduce to a maximum of 50,000 troops. Odierno is expected to turn over command of the mission in Iraq to Gen. Lloyd Austin after that switch occurs.
Odierno said switching to a non-combat mission will not greatly differ from how U.S. military forces have been operating for many months in Iraq, emphasizing the training and advising of Iraqi security forces.
With 40 days to reach the milestone of 50,000 troops, there are still 70,000 American troops in Iraq. Odierno is confident that troop reduction will be met in time.
Odierno has not made a request to keep more troops above 50,000 because he believes Iraqi security forces are capable for handling necessary security levels. He also said lowering troop numbers sends an important signal to the Iraqis that the U.S. is living up to its commitment to reduce troop numbers.
The amount of American military equipment shipped out of Iraq over the past year is staggering; 37,000 rolling stock wheeled vehicles and an additional 1.2 million pieces of non-rolling stock have been transported out of Iraq.
An additional 20,000 pieces of equipment have been shipped to Afghanistan for use by American forces in that conflict.
Odierno said that since January 2009, US military force levels have been reduced by 75,000. In that time 500 American bases throughout Iraq have been closed or turned over to the Iraqis.
As the American military continues to reduce its forces, Odierno said his staff is reviewing the possibility of switching units to nine-month deployments instead of having them serve in Iraq for a year.
He said a nine-month deployment would be “reasonable,” and he wants to know if it would help with the total drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of 2011.