Iraqi Security Forces Enable Progress, General Says

BAGHDAD, Dec. 13, 2010 — Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are enabling progress in the coun­try, a senior U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer in Iraq said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, deputy com­man­der for oper­a­tions at U.S. Forces Iraq, not­ed that things have changed in 2010.

“In 2009, we had some­where over 100,000 U.S. forces work­ing shoul­der to shoul­der to main­tain secu­ri­ty with the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces,” Cone said. “Since the U.S. forces start­ed the draw­down, the Iraqi forces have [the secu­ri­ty lead].”

This year saw a 20 per­cent reduc­tion in vio­lence from 2009, the gen­er­al said. The year saw the end of Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom – the U.S. com­bat oper­a­tion – and the begin­ning of Oper­a­tion New Dawn, the cur­rent “advise and assist” oper­a­tion. About 48,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers remain in Iraq, with the major­i­ty involved in train­ing Iraqi forces as the Iraqis them­selves are respon­si­ble for secu­ri­ty.

“This role of advise, train and assist is legit­i­mate,” Cone said. “It is real­ly rare, and only in cas­es of self-defense, that U.S. forces are direct­ly involved in com­bat oper­a­tions.”

U.S. forces do pro­vide enablers for the Iraqi forces, and Amer­i­can units pro­vide logis­tics and main­te­nance, sur­veil­lance sup­port, some com­mu­ni­ca­tions and intel­li­gence sup­port. But even in these areas, Cone said, the Amer­i­cans are teach­ing the Iraqis how to devel­op and sus­tain the capa­bil­i­ties.

“On a day-to-day basis, it is the Iraqis who main­tain the lev­el of secu­ri­ty we see today,” he said.

The gen­er­al said today’s aver­age of 15 attacks per day across Iraq is com­pa­ra­ble to pre-Iraqi Free­dom days. “Where the Iraqis are mak­ing some head­way in the recent months is in their actions to pur­sue coun­tert­er­ror­ism,” he said, not­ing that the Iraqis are stop­ping attacks before they are launched.

Intel­li­gence reports indi­cat­ed that ter­ror­ist groups want­ed to launch as many as 15 car-bomb attacks on Dec. 4, Cone said. Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces did some major raids pri­or to that day and “rolled up a bunch of folks, and what you saw was only three such attacks,” he added.

“That’s still bad — they still killed peo­ple and it is trag­ic,” he said. “But the Iraqis proved they are capa­ble now of real­ly dimin­ish­ing these attacks in an impres­sive way.” Al-Qai­da in Iraq has been remark­ably resilient over time, Cone said. “Any time we do not main­tain pres­sure against them, you will find their capa­bil­i­ty regen­er­ates,” he said. Recent al-Qai­da attacks have been effec­tive, he acknowl­edged, but less so than in the past. In addi­tion to hav­ing to weath­er attacks, the group is plagued with finan­cial woes and strug­gling to get for­eign fight­ers in, Cone said. And they are unable to recruit among Iraqis, he added.

“The num­ber of for­eign fight­ers com­ing in is less than 10 a month,” he said, “but the Iraqis have made some inroads in address­ing this flow.” What remains of al-Qai­da in Iraq is a loose­ly cou­pled net­work that has suf­fi­cient com­mu­ni­ca­tions to con­duct lethal attacks, the gen­er­al said, “but nowhere near what we’ve seen in the past.”

With all Amer­i­can forces sched­uled to be out of Iraq by the end of next year, Cone said, the lega­cy of Amer­i­can forces for Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces is the idea of civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary.

“Over the next year, they are very much focused on learn­ing as much as they can from us,” he said. “That is very pos­i­tive, because they have a large sense of urgency in under­stand­ing all of the pro­fes­sion­al skills that U.S. forces have here.

“Where we are today in Iraq has been paid for in blood and in the rich­es of the Amer­i­can tax­pay­er,” Cone con­tin­ued. “Being at the lev­el of vio­lence we are today is an accom­plish­ment that the U.S. and Iraqi forces share.”

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

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