Odierno: 'Important' that US troops stay in Afghanistan

Anne Wernikoff

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said he believes the United States needs to leave behind a residual force in Afghanistan, in order to continue crucial military institution building and a counterterrorism mission there. 

“I think it’s important that we stay there. It doesn’t have to be in large numbers, but we have to stay there to support them so that they can continue to progress forward,” he said at a Council of Foreign Relations discussion on Tuesday evening.

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The U.S. is working to sign a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan that would allow U.S. troops to stay there after their combat mission ends in December. The U.S. was unable to reach a similar agreement with Iraq, which abruptly ended its troop presence there in December 2011. 

Odierno said he wasn’t sure leaving a residual force in Iraq would have prevented al Qaeda’s reemergence there, saying it was more due to the government’s inability to reach out to all political parties. 

“The government in place was not able to come together in order to represent all the Iraqi people, and when that didn’t happen, they then started to revert back to violence,” he said. 

He said a small force may have provided the Iraq government with confidence, and allowed the U.S. to put more pressure on political entities.

"Maybe that would have made a difference, but it’s hard to say,” he said. 

Still, he said the men and women of the U.S. military did their jobs there, and it is too soon to tell how things will turn out in Iraq. 

“It’s recoverable, how long it’ll take to recover, I don’t know,” he said.