By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2009 - Three weeks before Multinational Corps Iraq cases its colors and rolls into the new U.S. Forces Iraq organization, its commander said plenty of operational activity still is under way in partnership with Iraqi security forces and on track with the U.S. drawdown timetable. The mission here continues in support of the strategy of turning the security lead over to increasingly capable Iraqi security forces, Army Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
U.S. forces in Iraq are "fully engaged," supporting that mission in two primary ways, Jacoby said during a roundtable session today.
In addition to partnering with Iraq security forces in combat operations outside the cities, they're also providing important "enabling functions" for Iraqi soldiers and police within the cities. These range from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to communications to explosive ordnance disposal and crime-scene analysis capabilities.
Jacoby called June 30 – when U.S. combat troops had withdrawn from Iraqi cities – "an epiphany" for Iraqi security forces as they took over security responsibility, and for the Iraqi government overall.
"Looking back on it, it ended up being a more important date than 1 January," Jacoby said, citing the date when the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement took effect, marking Iraqi sovreignty. "It was 30 June when they really decided, 'We've got it."
Iraqi security forces have grown to more than 600,000 strong, and continue to increase in capability, Jacoby said. The result is continued security progress, even in light of the recent, high-visibility attacks in Baghdad.
When five U.S. brigade combat teams that had been operating in Baghdad left the city June 30 in compliance with the security agreement, attack trends actually improved, he noted.
Jacoby recognized the key role U.S. forces played in reaching this strategic milestone.
"We worked hard with Iraqi security forces for them to gain capability. We had had a good effect on the enemy," he said. "They were ready, and I am proud to say, our partners in the Iraqi security forces stepped up and took lead responsibility."
The challenge now is to help Iraqi security forces reach a capability to relieve U.S. forces of responsibility throughout the battle space within the next seven months, then dramatically changing the U.S. footprint here.
The United States is on a "pretty deliberate, responsible drawdown timeline," Jacoby said, with plans to reduce the U.S. presence here from the current 119,000 to 50,000 troops by July 2011.
As brigade combat teams and their enablers reduce in force, the headquarters and command-and-control functions are streamlining, too, to better reflect the force on the ground.
When Multinational Corps Iraq cases its colors Jan. 1, Jacoby will become deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces Iraq. After he redeploys in March, his successor will help to lay groundwork for the second phase of the drawdown, ending the U.S. force presence here by December 2011.
"The plan exists to get us to zero, but to still remain interested and supportive and partnered with Iraq," Jacoby said.
"So we have a responsible drawdown plan. We are going to draw down stuff. And we are going to draw down capability," her said. "But we are not going to draw down interest and support and passion for Iraq."