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Combat is over but the mission is not

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By Susan Sharp

Weighing in politics and global activity is a hobby that many people dabble in.

But with a resume that includes leading a multitude of troops into various battles, earning the rank of four-star general along the way that qualifies one as an expert.

So when retired four star General Carl Stiner says that American troops were successful on the Iraq battlefield, he knows what he is talking about.

Earlier this month President Barrack Obama declared combat in Iraq to be over. For many Americans, this brought relief. For others such as Stiner it was confirmation to what he already knew.

“The troop surge was the right thing to do,” Stiner said of the tactical move by then President George W. Bush. “It made a world of difference.” While American troops are no longer engaging in armed combat, 43,500 of them remain on Iraqi soil. Once their mission was battle orientated. Now it is to “train, advise and assist” the Iraqi people in learning to stand independently.

“The priority is to help the Iraqi forces upgrade to where they can provide security for themselves,” Stiner said. In his summation, they are making strides in that area.

One of the tasks that had to be completed in that respect was the acquisition of military equipment. Saddam Hussein had armed his troops with Soviet designed and built arms, according to Stiner. Once that arsenal was destroyed, sanctions placed on the dictator by the United Nations stopped him from upgrading any military weapons he had. This left the country lacking when it came to equipment.

As Iraq started the lengthy rebuilding process, it turned to the United States for the latest in military paraphernalia. This resulted in a $13 billion transaction between the two countries, Stiner said.

“They saw the efficiency of U.S. weaponry during the war,” he said.

As the equipment makes its way into the country, American forces continue to assist Iraqi forces in learning tactical skills such as surveillance and reconnaissance. The end game is to ensure the country can defend its own borders once U.S. forces leave. But when those forces will officially leave the war torn country remains unknown.

Some politicians have said that could happen by the end of 2010. Stiner is not as confident in that timeline. Too much has been invested in the region for a troop withdrawal that soon, according to Stiner.

In the last seven years American forces have become a familiar sight across the desert countryside. Their sand colored fatigues became as commonplace as the granular material they were designed to match. Through the consistent presence of U.S. troops the most valuable resource of Iraq was mined- relationships with its people, Stiner said. As the troops not only fought but also lived in the country, the inhabitants grew to trust the soldiers. When that occurred t the true progress began.

Even western Iraq, “the most lawless region” soon forged bonds with the service personnel stationed there. “They saw we were there to help,” Stiner said.

With Saddam toppled from power and the Bath party exorcised from the military Iraq was a blank slate.

This gave the U.S. a unique opportunity to assist the once oppressed country build what it wanted. In the years that have passed this has included a not only a trained military but a police force. A new government is also being established complete with officials being elected by the people.

In the two elections that have been held it was estimated that 75-percent of the people cast a ballot. “The turn out was enormous,” Stiner said.

Along with assisting in the establishment of a democracy, putting an infrastructure in place was also key in helping Iraq to create independence. This includes building schools, something Stiner said was crucial for the country. “Education for these children is so essential,” he said.

But even as considerable strides have been made, the area is still teeming with danger, according to Stiner. Iran continues to pose a significant danger, as does Syria. Both countries have a history of unrest they are willing to spread. Coupled with martyrs known as suicide bombers and it becomes clear that while the combat mission maybe over, the danger still exists, said Stiner.