Commander Says Iraq Transition on Track

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 2011 — As the Dec. 31 depar­ture date approach­es for approx­i­mate­ly 46,000 U.S. troops remain­ing in Iraq, Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces in the north are pre­pared to man­age inter­nal secu­ri­ty and exter­nal defense, a U.S. brigade com­man­der post­ed in Iraq said today.

“It’s not the end of some­thing, it’s the tran­si­tion of some­thing,” Army Col. Bri­an Win­s­ki, com­man­der of 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cav­al­ry Divi­sion, told Pen­ta­gon reporters today dur­ing a video brief­ing from U.S. Divi­sion North head­quar­ters at Con­tin­gency Oper­at­ing Base Spe­ich­er, near Tikrit.

Since the “Long Knife Brigade” deployed in Sep­tem­ber 2010, Win­s­ki has led the mis­sion to advise, train and assist Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces through­out Nin­eveh province and Mosul.

His forces’ main efforts over the year, the com­man­der said, have been to tran­si­tion for­mer U.S. bases to Iraqi con­trol, and help the Iraqi army rebuild com­bat skills that have lan­guished over sev­er­al years of employ­ing police func­tions dur­ing coun­terin­sur­gency oper­a­tions.

The train­ing empha­sized “the abil­i­ty to con­duct an attack and defense [and] employ com­bined arms, employ artillery, mor­tars and sim­i­lar pro­fi­cien­cies that were not typ­i­cal­ly exer­cised over the last sev­er­al years as the Iraqi army forces have been focused on inter­nal secu­ri­ty,” he said.

Winski’s brigade part­nered with some 60,000 Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, includ­ing about 20,000 police, 35,000 sol­diers and mem­bers of the fed­er­al police or a bor­der enforce­ment brigade, the colonel said.

His troops also mon­i­tored Iraqi-Kur­dish oper­a­tions in 15 areas of mutu­al con­cern between the Kur­dish region­al gov­ern­ment and the Iraqi cen­tral gov­ern­ment, Win­s­ki said.

“[There is now] a long-term sus­tain­able secu­ri­ty solu­tion imple­ment­ed in all those areas, where the Iraqis and the Kurds are secur­ing it bilat­er­al­ly now … quite effec­tive­ly,” he said.

His brigade’s sol­diers are in the process of return­ing to Fort Hood, Texas, Win­s­ki said, and will be replaced with a small­er force that will remain focused on com­plet­ing tran­si­tion efforts.

Much of that work is com­plete or near­ly so, Win­s­ki said.

“At about the mid­way point of our rota­tion, we were in 22 bases across the province,” he said, not­ing that most were in the com­bined Iraqi-Kurd areas.

“We tran­si­tioned all of those to the bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty arrange­ment,” he added.

The train­ing mis­sion for Iraqi forces has also large­ly shift­ed to an Iraqi lead, Win­s­ki said.

“We are now train­ing and cer­ti­fy­ing and prepar­ing Iraqi train­ers to con­tin­ue the train­ing that we were doing over the course of this past year,” he said. “So where we had a sub­stan­tial num­ber of forces com­mit­ted to train­ing Iraqi army forces on those tra­di­tion­al army tasks I described, we’re now assist­ing their train­ers as they con­duct that.”

Iraqi forces already are plan­ning and con­duct­ing inter­nal secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions with only min­i­mal U.S. sup­port, the colonel said.

He offered as an exam­ple an event this morn­ing in Mosul, dur­ing which some 35 Iraqi pris­on­ers charged with ter­ror­ism-relat­ed crimes tried to tun­nel out of a deten­tion facil­i­ty.

“Almost imme­di­ate­ly, the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces recap­tured the major­i­ty of [the pris­on­ers],” Win­s­ki said. “They know exact­ly who it is that’s still at large … and [are] prepar­ing to con­duct oper­a­tions to detain them when they sur­face, wher­ev­er that may be.”

U.S. assis­tance in the cap­ture involved air sur­veil­lance via aer­i­al recon­nais­sance assets and heli­copters, he said. Mean­while, the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces posi­tioned their troops to con­tain the escapees’ move­ments and con­duct­ed “good, aggres­sive patrolling actions to pur­sue where these indi­vid­u­als have like­ly fled to or are hid­ing.”

Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are like­wise lead­ing the fight against insur­gent activ­i­ty, in many cas­es elim­i­nat­ing threat cells before they become active, the colonel said.

“Speak­ing to Nin­eveh alone, those Iraqi secu­ri­ty force actions — where they’re find­ing and clear­ing caches, they’re find­ing these [vehi­cle-borne bombs] before they’re employed, they’re iden­ti­fy­ing the ene­my cells before they con­duct the attacks — the vast major­i­ty of those are uni­lat­er­al Iraqi secu­ri­ty force oper­a­tions,” he said. “We assist with some intel­li­gence. We assist with some advi­so­ry efforts. But that is enhanc­ing. It’s not a make-or-break type of assis­tance effort.”

Insur­gent, crim­i­nal and extor­tion activ­i­ties in the province are all con­nect­ed, Win­s­ki said, and “are being dealt with … very effec­tive­ly by the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces — the fed­er­al police, the Iraqi army forces and their coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces.”

While any exten­sion of U.S. troop pres­ence in Iraq is a pol­i­cy mat­ter for the Iraqi and U.S. gov­ern­ments to decide, Win­s­ki said, tran­si­tion in his area of oper­a­tions is pro­ceed­ing smooth­ly and accord­ing to plan.

“I’m very con­fi­dent that the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces will con­tin­ue to pros­e­cute very effec­tive inter­nal secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions,” he said. “I’m like­wise con­fi­dent that they have a foun­da­tion for an exter­nal defense and they, more impor­tant­ly, have train­ing sys­tems that will endure past our depar­ture [and they] will con­tin­ue to build that foun­da­tion and capa­bil­i­ty for exter­nal defense.”

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