By Gerry J. Gilmore
Nov. 17, 2006 – More U.S. officers and noncommissioned officers are being assigned to mentoring and training duties with Iraqi army and police units in the country's Anbar province, a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer deployed in Iraq said today. "We've taken Marines and soldiers out of our combat formations so that they can work more closely with Iraqi security forces," Marine Col. Larry D. Nicholson told Pentagon reporters from his headquarters in Fallujah during a satellite-televised news conference.
Nicholson is the commander of Regimental Combat Team 5, a contingent of nearly 5,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors that operates across 1,800 square miles of Anbar province. The Iraq cities of Fallujah and Ramadi are part of RCT-5's area of operations.
The colonel said he concurs with Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, who recently stated that victory over insurgents in Iraq can best be achieved by establishing capable, nonpartisan Iraqi army and police forces that are backed by a unified Iraqi government.
"Iraqis and Americans alike believe that Iraq can stabilize and that the key to stabilization is effective, loyal, nonsectarian Iraqi security forces coupled with an effective government of national unity," Abizaid said during his Nov. 15 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"General Abizaid is exactly right," said Nicholson, who has been RCT-5's commander since February. His unit's principal mission is to train Iraqi soldiers and police.
The colonel said his unit has "probably doubled the size" of the teams of U.S. military officer and NCO instructors assigned to Iraqi army and police units. Those instructor teams, he noted, also include support personnel such as drivers, radio operators and medics.
"I think that we could even double that again," Nicholson asserted, adding, "we should be doing less as the Iraqis do more."
Nicholson saluted the new Iraqi security forces, noting its members are intelligent and quick learners under the tutelage of U.S. military instructors.
"There's a great deal of satisfaction of seeing an Iraqi platoon, which you've been working with and training, going out and just 'nailing' a patrol and just doing great out there," he observed.
Partnership, cooperation and mutual respect play big roles in developing effective Iraqi security forces, Nicholson pointed out.
"We are, as Marines, a better unit when we go out and we have Iraqis with us," the colonel observed. The Iraqis, he explained, "see things we'll never see."
For example, Iraqi soldiers and police can quickly identify non-local people or foreigners who may be potential terrorists, Nicholson observed.
"It doesn't matter how many interpreters I have, you can't train that," Nicholson remarked. "So, we actively seek to work with the Iraqi forces each and every time we go out."
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