War on Terrorism

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On the Ground: Base Transfer, Tank Course, Security Meetings Mark Progress

American Forces Press Service

Feb. 25, 2009 - U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to work together to lay the groundwork for a more secure and self-sufficient Iraq. In the past week, coalition forces turned a base over to Iraqi control, combined forces received an update on a high-tech training course and several meetings addressed local residents' security concerns.

Coalition forces transferred authority of Forward Operating Base Iskan to Iraq's Ministry of Electricity during a Feb. 22 ceremony.

"This transfer of authority reinforces the Iraqi government's independence and demonstrates the capabilities of the Iraqis," Army Lt. Col. Steven Miska, commander of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, said.

The ceremony also signified the Iraqi government's capability to secure the Musayyib thermal power plant on the base. The plant provides power to the majority of Iraq's Babil province and 25 percent of the electricity to Baghdad, officials said.

The power plant stopped generating electricity in 2003 due to violence. The last attack on the base occurred in late October, when a mortar attack left many Iraqis without electricity.

"The Iraqis have come to a point where they can stabilize security on and around the [forward operating base] without our help," said Army Capt. Bradley Kinser, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment.

East of Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers and coalition forces traveled to Besmaya Range Complex on Feb. 23 for an update on the new M1A1 Abrams tank training program. The visit included a tour of an Abrams tank, a question-and-answer session, and a ride in the M1A1 designed to demonstrate the speed and maneuverability of the weapons platform.

"We currently have 30 Iraqis in the M1A1 train-the-trainer course for the first phase of the process," said Army Brig. Gen. Steve Salazar, commander of the Joint Headquarters Army Advisory Training Team, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq. "The second phase will involve these new instructors training the new crews. They are committed to providing the best possible training to the Iraqi army before they receive the first new tanks."

Four American tanks are at the complex, with another 18 slated for delivery in the next month, said Mark Bangsboll, project officer and advisor for the Joint Headquarters Army Advisory Training Team.

"The 22 tanks will be used to train 11 Iraqi tank crews in each of 13 future 45-day rotations," he said. "Iraq has purchased 140 M1A1 Abrams tanks, scheduled for delivery in August 2010."

Elsewhere, U.S. forces addressed Iraqis' security concerns during meetings in Baghdad and Diwaniya province.

Tribal leaders from central and southern Iraq attended a security agreement conference coordinated by Multinational Division Center on Feb. 21 in the Baghdad International Airport Hotel.

U.S. and Iraqi leaders spoke to an audience of more than 50 sheiks on the improved Iraqi army and police capabilities and the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, which calls for U.S. forces to recede to a supporting role of Iraqi security efforts.

"We took the opportunity to explain the security agreement to the sheiks, focusing on the parts we thought would be of particular interest to them," Army Lt. Col. Mike Ryan, staff judge advocate, said. "Then, we gave them the chance to ask whatever questions they had."

The conference marked the first time sheiks from throughout southern Iraq have gathered for a meeting like this, Army Maj. Gino P. Quintiliani, Multinational Division Center's key leader engagement officer, said.

"We got the chance to answer some great questions about the security agreement from them," he said. "We have had a very positive reception."

In Diwaniya province, U.S. forces addressed questions from Iraqi media regarding local residents' concerns Feb. 18 on Camp Echo.

Army Col. Butch Kievenaar, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, attributed the "Warhorse" Brigade's success in the province over the past five months to a close relationship with the 8th Iraqi Army Division and Diwaniya Iraqi police.

"All operations we conduct are combined with the [Iraqi security forces]," he said. "They are truly in the lead. We support them."

About $9 million has been earmarked for spending in the province this year. The money, a combination of U.S. and Iraqi funds, will help to improve the province's agriculture, infrastructure, economy, public health, governance and education system.

The contractors used in projects are Iraqi, Kievenaar explained, with the Iraqi government controlling who is selected for each project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides additional oversight to projects.

Michael S. Klecheski, Diwaniya Provincial Reconstruction Team leader, said a city planner will be added to the PRT staff soon to improve the planning process.

"A lot can be done by planning," Klecheski said. "Our impression is that we can do a lot in Diwaniya City -- there is economic growth, the possibility of an efficient transportation system and, maybe in the future, tourism.

"Our ultimate goal is to help Iraq address the concerns of its citizens," he said.

(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq and Multinational Corps Iraq news releases. Army Pfc. Bethany L. Little of 172nd Infantry Brigade, Army Pfc. Tyler Maulding of Multinational Division Center and Army Spc. Josh LeCappelain of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team contributed to this article.)

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