By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 7, 2007 - The first of five brigade combat teams to redeploy without being replaced has now departed Iraq, and most of the soldiers are home in Fort Hood, Texas, a senior Joint Staff official said today. With the departure of 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, commanders in Iraq have adjusted the force posture and will continue to make assessments before the next redeployments, Army Lt. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the Joint Staff director for operations, said in a Pentagon news briefing.
Ham and Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the Joint Staff director for strategic plans and policy, said the Army could possibly reduce tour lengths to 12 months in the late summer of 2008. "There are no decisions yet," Ham said. "We want to get all Army units to 12-month tours as soon as possible. That might mean the policy is phased in. There might be some units that deploy for less than 15, but not 12 over time."
Sattler said improvement in capabilities and capacities of Iraqi security forces is helping bring about the change in coalition strategy. Three years ago, the Iraqi government had to go countrywide to find seven Iraqi battalions that were qualified and capable to fight alongside coalition forces in the battle for Fallujah, he said. "Today, there are 108 Iraqi battalions that are in the lead or on independent operations," he said. "That is a dramatic change over a three-year period."
The "clear, hold, build" strategy was once largely a coalition effort. "Now the Iraqis have the capacity and capability to be an integral part of that strategy and in some cases lead in the 'hold' (portion of the) strategy," Sattler said.
The strategy is changing from U.S. and coalition troops being in the lead, to Iraqis providing security. "We are, over time, shifting our emphasis from being the security force to being the force that enables the Iraqis to provide that security," Sattler said. "There is a shift on getting more coalition forces involved in training and development of Iraqi security forces, and we're seeing that pay off."
Intelligence reports indicate that al Qaeda in Iraq is being throttled in Anbar province and in and around Baghdad, Ham said, noting that terrorists are attempting to regroup in northern Iraq, especially around Mosul.
"Conditions in that area have changed considerably since al Qaeda was last influential there," he said. "Al Qaeda is confronted by increasingly capable Iraqi security forces: Army and police. Al Qaeda is finding the forces much tougher than in the past."
So far, Iraqi security forces are handling the mission very well, Ham said, but it's too early to know if they can carry early successes forward. Commanders in Iraq constantly are assessing situations and moving forces as needed, and if commanders need more Iraqi or coalition forces in the north, they will get them. "It's a very mobile force, and so, if more forces are needed in one place, they will make that adjustment," Ham said.
He said more coalition trainers than combat forces may be needed in Iraq in the near future. But commanders have not made yet requested such forces, because coalition units are now using their own soldiers or Marines to make up ad hoc training teams to work with Iraqi forces. "Increasingly, the commanders deployed are providing their own teams to assist the development of the Iraqi security forces, and that's been a very, very powerful partnership, Ham said.
"As the Iraqi security forces are increasingly able to perform the security functions, you can have U.S. and other coalition forces who had been performing those functions transition more to a train-and-assist (concept) for the Iraqis," Ham said.
Sattler said battalions see moving combat personnel into training Iraqi forces as a good trade. "So give up 11 tough warriors and gain 500 is the way we viewed it," he said. "As the shifting of the role to take the fight on is coming somewhat off the back of the coalition forces, now I can afford to put more of those teams (to work training Iraqis) because I'm not involved in full-fledged combat."