By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 18, 2007 - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael G. Mullen stopped here today and spoke to British commanders about the recent transfer of the province to Iraqi control. The British-commanded Multinational Division Southeast transferred control to provincial officials Dec. 16. It was the last province in the south – and the province with the largest population – to transfer from the coalition to provincial leaders.
Some 4,700 British soldiers are in the province. They will move back to Basra International Airport and overwatch the Iraqi security forces. They will be available for call if Iraqi soldiers and police run into situations they cannot handle, officials said. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the British commitment will drop to 2,000 soldiers in the spring.
Mullen said that while he has been briefed on the process the British went through, nothing beats speaking to the people who devised the strategy and then made it work. British Army Maj. Gen. Graham Binns and his senior staff briefed Mullen and his party. The admiral broke off from his USO Holiday Tour to speak with the British leaders at Basra International Airport.
"They have created a whole new strategy and new laydown (of forces) in recent months," Mullen said. He said Binns and his staff deployed to Basra in August "and have been at the leading edge of this change. I wanted to talk to them about how they got to that strategy, how they did it and what the impact has been."
The division also has a few U.S. personnel assigned, and the admiral got a chance to meet with them. "It's all a part of getting into this job and learning more and more about the complexities of Iraq," he said. Mullen took over as Joint Chiefs chairman Oct. 1.
The transfer is a "huge deal" for Iraq, but coalition planners must be careful, Mullen said.
The British experience has lessons for other coalition forces, but the chairman warned it is not a cookie-cutter solution.
"We've got to be mindful that just because you do it in one place, it doesn't apply directly to the circumstances or same timeline," he said.