Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno says that he believes the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) could have been stopped if the United States had not pulled out of Iraq.
Odierno said in an interview with Fox News
published Wednesday that it's very hard to watch Iraq implode at the hands of ISIS after the gains that were made during the Iraq War.
"It's frustrating to watch it," Odierno said. "I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and we got it to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, politics looked like it was heading in the right direction."
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He contends that if the United States had left more troops in the region, ISIS would not have been able to capture large portions of that country or neighboring Syria.
"If we had stayed a little more engaged, I think maybe it might have been prevented," Odierno told Fox News. "I've always believed the United States played the role of honest broker between all the groups and when we pulled ourselves out, we lost that role."
The outgoing Army chief says that he wanted the United States to keep 30,000-35,000 troops in Iraq, but that his recommendation was not followed.
"I think it would have been good for us to stay," he said.
After Mosul fell to ISIS last year, Odierno says that the White House did not contact him for input, even though he had commanded troops for a longer time there than anyone else.
"All my work was given to [Joint Chiefs] Chairman [Martin] Dempsey," Odiernio told Fox News. "I never talked directly to the president about it at that time, but I talked to the secretary of defense and I'm sure he relayed all of my thoughts."
He said that he is also concerned about the cuts being made to the number of Army troops. In 2010, the Army had 570,000 soldiers and today there are 490,000.
"In my mind, we don't have the ability to deter. The reason we have a military is to deter conflict and prevent wars. And if people believe we are not big enough to respond, they miscalculate," Odierno said.
Troop levels in the Army are to fall even further, down to 450,000, based on a decision made two years ago. That number will put the Army at the fighting level it had before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I believed at the time we could do that," the outgoing Army chief told Fox News. "But I said we were on the razor’s edge that we could actually do our mission at 450."
According to Odierno, "Two years ago, we didn’t think we had a problem in Europe. … [Now] Russia is reasserting themselves. We didn’t think we’d have a problem again in Iraq and ISIS has emerged."
"So, with Russia becoming more of a threat, with ISIS becoming more of a threat, in my mind, we are on a dangerous balancing act right now with capability."
"When we go to 450, we are going to have to stop doing something," he added.
Odierno contends that the military cuts are making U.S. enemies more brazen.
"I believe they question whether we will be able to respond, and so they're willing to take maybe a bit more risk than they might have just a few years ago."
Odierno said in a separate interview with reporters that he thinks it will take 10 to 20 years to defeat ISIS
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