By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, June 30, 2006 – Iraq's soldiers and police are steadily gaining in capability so they can one day take charge of their country's security, a senior U.S. military officer said from Baghdad today. "The Iraqi security forces are getting better every day," Army Col. Jeffrey J. Snow, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, told reporters at a satellite teleconference at the Pentagon.
Snow's unit patrols western Baghdad and outlying areas in tandem with two Iraqi army brigades. The 1st Brigade is preparing to return to its home base at Fort Drum, N.Y., after a year's deployment to Iraq. The new Iraqi army has "growing pains like any new army," the colonel acknowledged. Yet, the Iraqi troops, he said, have demonstrated "a strong will to fight and protect the Iraqi people."
Iraqi security force capabilities "will only get better with time," Snow said. The 1st Brigade's area of responsibility encompasses 300 square kilometers and contains about 1.3 million Iraqis, Snow said. Baghdad International Airport is part of the brigade's AOR.
The colonel said his unit is also tasked with providing maintenance and logistics training for new Iraqi security forces, noting he's pleased with their progress. "We have trained two Iraqi army brigades and one national police brigade that to a certain extent can plan, execute and sustain counterinsurgency operations with limited coalition support," Snow said.
Snow said the 1st Brigade had controlled two-thirds of the battlespace within its AOR when it arrived in Iraq. Today, "Iraqi security forces are in the lead in two-thirds of the battlespace," the colonel said, freeing U.S. and other Iraqi forces to engage the enemy outside of Baghdad. "Because of the growing effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, we were able to expand coalition efforts to the west of Baghdad," Snow explained. "We have been able to disrupt insurgent networks and the route lines they used to travel into Baghdad by denying insurgents crucial support zones and destroying their caches."
This increased pressure has forced the enemy "to adopt new tactics as our combined offensive operations have continually disrupted insurgent activities," Snow said. Any increases in the number of terrorist attacks within his sector are likely caused by stepped-up U.S. and Iraqi offensive operations, Snow said.
More and more Iraqis are informing on terrorists living in their area, Snow said, noting, "Iraqis want to see the enemies of freedom and oppression defeated as much as we do." The colonel said $150 million has been spent to improve the quality of life for Iraqi citizens living within his area. Brigade troops, he said, have provided medical care, built water treatment and sewage facilities, repaired electric generating stations and renovated 35 schools.
The 1st Brigade's accomplishments in Iraq have come at a cost. Eleven 10th Mountain soldiers "will not return with us when we go home," Snow said. "They are gone, but not forgotten, and I assure you they will never be forgotten," the colonel vowed. Yet, the soldiers' morale remains high, Snow said, noting the 1st Brigade has met its annual unit re-enlistment goal in just seven months. "These soldiers understand the mission, and they're willing to continue the fight," Snow said.