By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
May 10, 2007 – U.S. forces are continuing to see improvements in the abilities of the Iraqi security forces they are training, the commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group today told representatives of veterans service organizations during a conference call from Iraq. "From the streets of Baghdad to the Iranian border, transition teams are providing high-quality advice and assistance to Iraq security force units," said Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group in charge of helping Iraqi military, police and border enforcement officials.
Pittard said his troops are working directly with Iraqi leaders from a variety of units to advise them in real-time scenarios and tactical operations. They also are assisting with the organization's staffing and unit structures.
To help make Iraqi forces more effective, Pittard's group serves as the key link between Multinational Corps Iraq, which commands operations in the country, and Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, which equips, mans and trains Iraqi security forces.
During the conference call, Pittard said he travels almost daily to engage with Iraqi leaders, noncommissioned officers and units who are making great strides in security enforcement throughout Iraq.
"I feel like I've been witnessing history in the making," Pittard said. "I've watched very courageous Iraqi leaders make tough decisions and work hard to develop units capable of defending their homeland."
He cited the commanders of Iraqi ground forces, the national police and department of border enforcement units as making extraordinary efforts and "stepping up to the plate" to put an end to sectarian influences.
Efforts along the Iraqi border haven't always been a priority for the country, he said.
"Over the last year we've seen more of a priority from the Iraqi government and coalition forces in training and equipping the Department of Border Enforcement," Pittard said.
After training and working with representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Iraqi forces are primarily focusing on the country's borders with Iran and Syria.
Pittard compared this "tough job" to the issues the United States has in securing its border with Mexico.
Beginning in May, more than 100 former U.S. border patrol agents have been contracted to assist Iraqis in border operations, Pittard said. Two of these agents have been embedded with each 11-man border transition team.
Applying their knowledge from operations at the U.S./Mexico border, agents have assisted Iraqi border enforcement officials along the Syrian border in using a "layered" approach with checkpoints at and away from the border. Pittard said this has helped reduce illegal goods and foreign fighters coming across the border.
Despite recent problems at the Iranian border with smuggling explosively formed projectiles, border officials are seeing some success in their efforts, the general said.
"Whether you talk to a soldier in Iraq or a Marine in al Anbar and ask them if we're winning or losing," he said, "I'd say the majority would say we are winning."
He said his troops are making slow, methodical progress, and efforts will require time and patience on the part of Americans and Iraqis.
"We know it's a moral commitment," he said. "We can't leave this nation as a failed state in disarray. We owe it to the American people and the Iraqi people to leave Iraq as a stable nation that can govern and defend itself with the Iraqi security forces."
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