By Kathleen T. Rhem
Dec. 22, 2006 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today learned from a U.S. Army officer working closely with Iraqi forces that Iraqi units are gaining confidence in their abilities and are doing more to empower noncommissioned officers. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bob Morschauser, commander of Task Force 2-15 in the Mahmudiyah area, along with a half dozen soldiers in his unit, ate breakfast with Gates and U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, here this morning.
In a news conference a few hours later, Gates told reporters he was impressed and encouraged by what he heard from the soldiers. He said he was particularly encouraged by the trust the soldiers described developing between American and Iraqi troops.
"Their admiration for the Iraqi soldiers that they're working with and their belief that this partnering -- where the Iraqis take the lead and where the Iraqis significantly outnumber the American soldiers ... -- they're being very successful," Gates said.
The U.S. soldiers "described these Iraqi soldiers as being very brave and very willing to be aggressive," Gates said.
"I found all of that very encouraging, in terms of the overall strategy as we move forward, of the Iraqis taking the lead with us in a support role," he said.
Gates touted the value of having larger units working closely with Iraqis rather than the smaller teams that have been the norm until recently. "It's a unit that brings all kinds of resources to help the Iraqis, not just the training, but intelligence and so on, and (the U.S. soldiers of TF 2-15) seem to think that that's really the way to go," he said.
The secretary said he would seek further advice from senior commanders, "but certainly this unit felt the way they were doing it was working, and they seem very content with it."
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said he was encouraged by progress among Iraqi military leaders. "I was impressed this time with the growing confidence in the Iraqi leaders in themselves and in each other," Pace said during the news conference.
Morschauser said he briefed Gates on "the importance of continued training and support of the Iraqi army, and the definite improvements that we have seen over the past three months."
Morschauser's 400-man task force is embedded with the 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division. The American soldiers are spread throughout the brigade and in each battalion. They live and work with their Iraqi counterparts.
"They do everything together basically," he said. "We support everything they do. We'll do training, and then when we're doing operations, we'll be there to support them during planning phase, preparation, and then we're out there during execution; we're side by side with them.
"And we'll slowly step back over the next five or six months and let them continue to take the lead," he added.
The commander said he believes Task Force 2-15 is the largest embedded training team assigned to an Iraqi unit and that other teams will soon follow this lead. He said he'd like to see continued partnering on this level. "So far it's working pretty well," he said.
Since his unit has been embedded with this Iraqi unit, Morschauser said, he has seen significant improvements in how well they execute military "tactics, techniques and procedures."
More importantly, the Iraqi unit is gaining confidence in their abilities. "They're gaining confidence rapidly, Morschauser said. "When we first came in, we were doing a lot of their planning for operations, ... now they're starting to take the lead in their planning and preparation.
"It's a great thing to see," he added. "It really is."
Morschauser said he believes the 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, will be able to handle all their own missions within a year.
One challenge in bringing Iraqi units up to speed is in getting them to properly use noncommissioned officers. "It's a very officer-centric army, and what we're trying to do is to push them to get them to use their noncommissioned officers more," Morschauser said. "They've got some great noncommissioned officers, the just don't utilize them as well as we do."
He said many older officers resist such a change, "but there are definitely moderates," he added. "You see some enlightened officers."
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