Irak — Iraqi Forces Capable, Confident as Drawdown Advances

WASHINGTON — One year after U.S. forces with­drew from Iraqi cities, the chief of staff for the 3rd Infantry Divi­sion and Task Force Marne said yes­ter­day that Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces have proven them­selves capa­ble of con­duct­ing inde­pen­dent oper­a­tions.

Dur­ing a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table, Army Col. Thomas S. James said that in his esti­ma­tion, Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are well pre­pared for the with­draw­al of the final U.S. com­bat troops and the com­ple­tion of the U.S. tran­si­tion from com­bat to sta­bil­i­ty oper­a­tions on Sept. 1.

“What we have seen across the board in the five Iraqi army divi­sions that we have in the north is the abil­i­ty to take the ball and run with it,” James said.

Task Force Marne cov­ers an area north of Bagh­dad that encom­pass­es sev­en provinces and more than 11 mil­lion peo­ple. The 3rd Infantry Divi­sion is in the ninth month of a 13-month rota­tion. In that time, James said, the U.S. foot­print has been great­ly reduced, from 22,000 to 15,000 ser­vice­mem­bers. He said he expects that num­ber to dip below 9,500 by Sep­tem­ber.

Anoth­er sign that the draw­down is in full swing, James said, is that in June alone, Task Force Marne has turned in some 750 vehi­cles and more than 5,000 pieces of equip­ment. Of the 41 U.S. bases that were oper­at­ing when he first arrived in U.S. Divi­sion North in Novem­ber, only eight bases are still open, the colonel said, and the focus of U.S. oper­a­tions has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly.

“For the most part, we are focused on train­ing the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, enabling their oper­a­tions and work­ing the civ­il capac­i­ty line through our provin­cial recon­struc­tion teams,” he explained.

Despite this suc­cess, James said, the sit­u­a­tion is not per­fect. He described an extrem­ist ene­my force that rep­re­sents less than 1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion but still is capa­ble of car­ry­ing out high-pay­off attacks. For­tu­nate­ly, he said, that threat is dwin­dling.

In the past nine months James said, he has seen “a great reduc­tion in [extrem­ist] resources, a reduc­tion in their com­mand and con­trol and capa­bil­i­ty of con­duct­ing coher­ent attacks.”

He cred­it­ed the grow­ing prowess of the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, accom­pa­nied by pub­lic con­fi­dence in them, with thwart­ing the pow­er of insur­gents. As a result, James said, it’s not sur­pris­ing that morale among Amer­i­can troops is now “sky-high.”

“To see the progress that has occurred, and to see civ­il capac­i­ty start­ing to grow and to see mar­kets start­ing to flour­ish, and com­pare that to our pri­or rota­tion, I think, real­ly, real­ly builds morale,” he said.

This is the fourth rota­tion for the 3rd Infantry Divi­sion into Iraq. James said that before the sol­diers leave this time, they want to set con­di­tions in place for the 4th Infantry Divi­sion to come in and fin­ish the task.

That will include con­tin­ued train­ing and improv­ing the Iraqi forces’ abil­i­ty to car­ry out intel­li­gence-based oper­a­tions, as well as improv­ing their over­all com­mand and con­trol. A long-term goal for Iraqi forces, James added, will be to defend the country’s bor­ders from out­side threats. But for now, James expressed sat­is­fac­tion with the lev­el of skill among Iraqi forces.

“From our fox­hole, from here in U.S. Divi­sion North, the best way that I see it is that they are capa­ble of han­dling the exist­ing threat right now, which will buy them time to be able to work towards [han­dling] a larg­er threat to their coun­try in the future.”

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