U.S. troops likely to stay in Iraq for a long time: experts

Despite all the talks and signs that indicate a major draw down of U.S. troops in Iraq this year, it now looks as if the United States may have a long-term and substantial military presence there, some U.S. military experts said.

Bruce Hoffman, a counterinsurgency expert with the Rand Corp, told U.S. media Thursday that he does not see any sign over the past year that the insurgency in Iraq will end anytime soon.

“I don’t see any development that would indicate ‘light at the end of the tunnel.'”

Ahmed S. Hashim, a counterinsurgency expert at the U.S. Naval War College, also predicted the U.S. military is in for a “protracted stay” in Iraq, guiding the Iraqi troops in their struggle against the insurgents for years.

He also mentioned the fact that U.S. forces remain in Germany, Japan and South Korea more than a half century after the conflicts that put them there.

Kenneth Pollack, a military-security expert at The Brookings Institution, estimated that it will take at least four to five more years before Iraq is ready to stand on its own without some kind of U.S. presence.

Meanwhile, U.S. commanders in Iraq said the strategy of handing over territory to the Iraqis is “area-based,” meaning that the first sectors will be those with the least insurgent threat — probably in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north.

Some of those zones are under control of U.S. coalition partners who have already announced plans to withdraw substantial forces in coming months.

But the “hottest” areas, including greater Baghdad and the western province of Anbar — are likely to remain under U.S. control for some time.

More than half the 22 U.S. deaths reported so far this month occurred in Anbar and greater Baghdad.