By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
July 14, 2009 - Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team have made a positive impact on security and quality of life in Iraq's Basra province, their commander said during a briefing from Iraq today. Their impact can be attributed, in part, to successful training programs, Army Col. Butch Kievenaar said.
"We started with an assessment of training proficiency for the Iraqi army, police and Department of Border Enforcement," he said. "[That was] followed by a mutually agreed-upon training plan that focused on building sustainable capability."
Sustainable capability refers to building basic and realistic systems for training and logistics in the Iraqi security forces, Kievenaar said. This includes establishing and maintaining effective control nodes and basic reporting systems that will allow the Iraqi forces to sustain security and stay ahead of the criminal elements operating in their areas.
At the soldier level, the brigade's soldiers focused on teaching the Iraqi leadership how to train and certify their young noncommissioned officers and officers so they can continue to maintain unit proficiency after the brigade's departure, Kievenaar said.
"This effort was the cornerstone of our campaign and a key contributor to the improvements in the security situation that was demonstrated during the provincial elections and enabled the successful transition of the security responsibility for the cities," he said. "Iraqi security forces in Basra are very good, and they are providing the security for the people of the province."
But the Iraqi forces aren't completely on their own, Kievenaar stressed. The brigade equips the Iraqis with tools they don't have yet, including reconnaissance platforms, intelligence and helicopters.
Since its April arrival in Basra, the brigade has returned control of four patrol bases to the Iraqis. Two more are scheduled to close before the brigade's departure next month after a 12-month tour. The brigade arrived in Iraq in September.
Though the Iraqis officially assumed responsibility for the security of their city June 30 in accordance with the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, they asked a small number of U.S. forces to stay. Fewer than 200 U.S. soldiers are operating inside the city.
"These locations are predominantly with the Iraqi army," Kievenaar said. "I want to emphasize we are only in the remaining locations because we've been asked to stay there to coordinate and conduct joint command-and-control training and provide enablers to Iraqi security forces.
"All vehicle movements and training events are coordinated daily with the Basra operations centers," he continued. "Our daytime vehicle movements inside the city are supported with Iraqi security force escorts."
While its primary mission was to train and enable Iraqi security forces, the brigade also has been heavily involved in assisting the government in providing essential services for Basra residents.
"The city has many challenges with its essential services such as electricity, water, sewage and trash," Kievenaar said. "Together with the provincial reconstruction team, we have over 100 projects ongoing in the Basra province totaling just over $62 million."
About $12 million will be used on improvements to electrical service, including building several substations and lines that will carry electricity to households throughout the province. Another estimated $10 million will be used for trash removal.
Basra has been plagued for years with large piles of scrap metal, mostly from previous wars: the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kievenaar said. Many civilians believed the metal was contaminated. Testing proved otherwise, and so far more than 80 truckloads of scrap metal have been removed.
This will enable the municipalities to focus repairs on water and sewage infrastructure and provide usable real estate for the province to develop, he said.
"We've also spent about $8.2 million on water," Kievenaar said. "As you know, Iraq is in the middle of a drought, and its effects are especially bad here in the south. We're focused right now on getting the main water plant to increase water production and the flow of water throughout the city of Basra."
The projects are designed to help improve the quality of life in Basra, an area coordinated, supervised and prioritized by the provincial government, he said.
"Our soldiers are making a huge difference for the people of Iraq," Kievenaar said. "There remains a lot of work to be accomplished, but there's a sense of hope and opportunity with the Iraqi people that did not exist here before."
The brigade is scheduled to redeploy to Fort Carson, Colo., in August.