WASHINGTON (AP) - The top U.S. general in Iraq said Monday he could slow the exit of U.S. combat forces this year if Iraq's politics are chaotic following elections this spring. Gen. Ray Odierno said there are no signs that will be necessary, but he says he has a Plan B and told his superiors about it during Washington meetings over the past week.
The U.S. has about 96,000 troops in Iraq nearly seven years after the American-led invasion that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein. That's the lowest number of American forces in the country since the invasion.
Under an agreement negotiated under former President George W. Bush, all combat troops are to leave the country by Aug. 31 although some 50,000 will remain behind to help train Iraqi security forces.
The remaining support troops are to be gone by the end of 2011.
"If you ask me today, I'm fully committed and that's the right course of action," Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon.
However, he noted earlier, "if something happens" between now and late spring - such as problems with the formation of the new Iraqi government following elections next month - the U.S. could slow down the rate of deployments. The U.S. also could speed up the withdrawal if necessary, he said.
When asked whether gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military, Odierno said yes, "as long as we are still able to fight our wars."
His comment was among the first to come from a senior military leader currently leading troops in battle since the Pentagon announced earlier this month that it will study the issue.
Odierno said he hadn't had much time to think about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and said it has been a "non-issue" to him.
"That doesn't mean it's right," he said. "All I'm saying is as I've implemented this war now for seven-years, we've been able to get forces out that are ready and prepared to conduct operations.
"My opinion is everyone should be allowed to serve, as long as we're able to fight our wars and we're able to have forces that are capable of doing whatever they are asked to do," he said.