BAGHDAD, Iraq (August 26, 2008) – Leaders from Task Force Mountain, Multi-National Corps - Iraq and units working with the Iraqi security forces met with Iraqi army commanders for a one-day conference, Aug. 20, 2008.
Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commander of Multi-National Security Transition Corps – Iraq (center), meets with Iraqi army commanders for a conference to discuss the future of Iraqi security forces at Camp Victory, Aug. 20, 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Turner)
"What we are trying to do is identify force generation needs. We are looking at the way ahead," said Capt. Steven Chadwick, an Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) coordinator with 10th Mountain Division.
The conference focused on manning, equipping and training the ISF to be a more effective and self-sustaining force.
"We already know where we are going to be in six months. We are looking two years-plus, trying to figure out what we see the IA [Iraqi army] looking like, what challenges we are going to encounter in getting to that end state," said Chadwick.
As insurgent attacks have slowed dramatically in the past ten months, new IA units have stood up at a rapid pace. The coalition troop surge gave the ISF a chance to accelerate their growth, said Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commander of Multi-National Security Transition Corp - Iraq.
"The [IA] has made enormous strides at this point in time," said Col. Thomas James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. "Comparing them now to when I was back here for [Operation Iraqi Freedom] I and OIF II – you can’t do it."
When IA units began executing combat operations such as the March 2008 operations in Basrah; coalition forces still provided most of the IA’s support needs, said Helmick.
"The [IA] knows how to conduct operations," said Chadwick. "They know how to clear rooms; they know how to conduct a cordon and search. They do that all the time, and they are doing that on their own, like in [recent operations in] Amarah. They are conducting major combat operations, like up in Diyalah right now, with minimal coalition support.
"In the coming year, said Helmick, ISF have the chance to use the gains made in security to increase their capacity of "enablers" – support units that provide engineering, logistics, air support and other assistance to combat units.
James said that the main challenges the IA now face are related to training. Learning to develop their own intelligence, implement logistics systems and operate communications will be key in future operations, he said.
New equipment is also being fielded to IA units in an effort to modernize the force. IA units are now recieving M-16 rifles, up-armored Humvees and sophisticated radios to perform their missions. A whole new generation of military equipment is being purchased by the IA, including helicopters, tanks and equipment to defeat improvised explosive devices.
With new equipment comes specialized training. A new program called warfighter training is giving IA battalions the chance to conduct exercises that develop team and leadership skills while units gain proficiency with new vehicles and weapons. Soldiers also learn counterinsurgency and other training not necessarily provided by military transition teams.
"Our role is shifting. As the Iraqis get increasingly better at controlling their battlespace … we are shifting less from advising on operations and intelligence and fires, where they are not only competent but they are four or five times better than the bad guys – and we are helping them more on logistics," said Col. Timothy Deady, whose team works with the 8th IA Div.
The successful growth of the military increases the need for housing, another challenge to the IA.
"Infrastructure is a huge challenge," Helmick told the conference attendees. "The United States and coalition will not build barracks for the Iraqi military any more. It’s up to the Iraqi military to do this. There is enough money, there is a plan, and we need to make a decision to execute the plan," he said.
Patrol bases and small outposts built and occupied by coalition troops, many of them during the surge, are being turned over to IA units, saving them time and money.
"They can actually fall in on our old outposts and have a fully functional outpost; that’s what “shrink and share” means," Helmick said. "The end goal is for them to increase their security capability and for us to decrease our presence.”
"We know we’re not where we need to be, we know we’re not where we want to be, but thank goodness we’re not where we used to be," he said.