Commander Cites ‘Positive Impact’ From Iraq Mission

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2011 — Most of about 24,000 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers remain­ing in Iraq will be home “well before Christ­mas,” the last U.S. divi­sion com­man­der there said today.

Army Maj. Gen. Bernard S. Cham­poux, com­man­der of U.S. Divi­sion-Cen­ter and the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Divi­sion, briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters via video from Iraq on with­draw­al oper­a­tions there.

Cham­poux deployed with his divi­sion head­quar­ters last Decem­ber in sup­port of Oper­a­tion New Dawn. He said sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines are con­duct­ing the last phase of Iraq oper­a­tions with pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Since Sep­tem­ber, Champoux’s forces have been respon­si­ble not only for cen­ter division’s assigned areas of Anbar and Bagh­dad provinces, but also nine south­ern provinces.

“These are his­toric times … the mis­sion of com­ing last in this, as in any activ­i­ty, is dis­tinc­tive­ly chal­leng­ing,” the gen­er­al said.

U.S. troops are dis­man­tling bases and oper­a­tional struc­tures main­tained over many years, while still per­form­ing com­bat mis­sions and trans­fer­ring tasks to the State Depart­ment, which will head U.S. activ­i­ties in Iraq after Amer­i­can mil­i­tary forces with­draw by Dec. 31, Cham­poux said.

The com­plex oper­a­tion to relo­cate remain­ing troops and 374,000 pieces of mil­i­tary equip­ment — from vehi­cles to com­put­ers — is on a “good glide path” to com­ple­tion, he said.

Mean­while, U.S. troops are work­ing with Iraqi army, police and local secu­ri­ty forces to counter attacks by extrem­ist groups and Iran­ian-backed mili­tia, Cham­poux said.

The “over­whelm­ing major­i­ty” of those attacks, he said, have been traced to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which receives fund­ing and train­ing from Iran. Two oth­er Iran­ian-backed groups still active in Iraq are Kata’ib Hezbol­lah and the Promised Day Brigade, he added.

The gen­er­al said trends in vio­lence across the coun­try remain head­ed in a pos­i­tive direc­tion under Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces.

“I feel very com­fort­able with where the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are,” he said, not­ing his division’s pri­ma­ry task has been to strength­en those forces.

“I think they’re very capa­ble to han­dle the cur­rent threat,” he added, “and I think they’ve demon­strat­ed that in the 11 months that I’ve observed them.”

Iraq’s exter­nal defense remains an area where the nation’s forces need to build capa­bil­i­ty, Cham­poux said.

“I think that’s a poten­tial role for us in the future, to build that capa­bil­i­ty,” the gen­er­al said. “But where we are, at the end of this phase of our com­mit­ment here [under] the 2008 secu­ri­ty agree­ment, I feel very com­fort­able with the effort we’ve put into it and where the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are.”

Along with deploy­ments to Afghanistan, eight years of mil­i­tary involve­ment in Iraq have had a dra­mat­ic effect on U.S. ser­vice mem­bers, Cham­poux not­ed.

“We’ve either been deployed, or we’ve been back to improve our equip­ment or to retrain, and again rede­ploy,” he said.

The mil­i­tary force tran­si­tions over time and not all Iraqi troops are still in uni­form, the gen­er­al said, but “a huge major­i­ty have con­tin­ued to serve over those eight-plus years.”

In gen­er­al, Cham­poux said, expe­ri­ence in Iraq has honed troops’ abil­i­ty to func­tion in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, think cre­ative­ly, and work with all stake­hold­ers.

“It’s made us an incred­i­bly stronger, more resilient, more bat­tle-proven force,” he said. “It’s also had a tremen­dous­ly pos­i­tive impact not just on our train­ing and our for­ma­tions, but also on our equip­ment.”

As the Iraq mis­sion draws to a close, the gen­er­al said, his divi­sion head­quar­ters will return to Hawaii where they will reset peo­ple and equip­ment, and train and pre­pare for the next mis­sion.

Cham­poux not­ed the mil­i­tary also has learned how to help ser­vice mem­bers adjust to rein­te­grat­ing with fam­i­lies and friends when a deploy­ment ends.

“We take the time to make sure that those lessons we’ve learned … are shared with the entire force,” he said. “If some­one has been chal­lenged by their expe­ri­ences here, we make sure there are ded­i­cat­ed behav­ioral health pro­fes­sion­als avail­able to them, there are chap­lains avail­able to them, and there are expe­ri­enced war­riors avail­able to them to help them through that.”

He con­tin­ued, “This is who we are, this is what we do, this is what we are called to do. We do it all in sim­ple obe­di­ence to duty.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)