By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 26, 2010 - Even after Operation New Dawn begins next week, U.S. military trainers will continue to help Iraqi security forces build the capabilities to maintain internal security and increasingly, to bolster their defenses against external threats as well, senior military officials in Iraq reported.
Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza called yesterday's rash of violence that largely targeted Iraqi security forces the enemy's attempt to intimidate the Iraqi police and military and shake public confidence in their capabilities.
Lanza emphasized during an interview yesterday with American Forces Press Service the need for Iraqi security forces to remain vigilant against the al-Qaida network and others trying to derail progress, and cited U.S. support to ensure they're up to the task.
Six U.S. "advise and assist" brigades fanned out across Iraq have embedded with their Iraqi counterparts to accelerate training and more quickly build both capability and capacity, he said.
"What we are expanding right now is not just building internal capability, but also an external capability to defend the borders," Lanza said.
Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, recognized Iran's role in the uptick of violence in recent weeks during an interview on last night's PBS "Newshour."
In addition to launching direct-fire attacks against U.S. forces, Iranians appear to be "influencing some action by intimidation," Odierno said. "So they are behind this. They are training people. They are supplying people with weapons."
Odierno noted that Iraqis -- Sunnis and Shiia alike -- "do not want Iran meddling inside of Iraq's business," and need to take a stand to stop it.
With U.S. forces in Iraq transitioning to stability operations under Operation New Dawn, Odierno expressed confidence in the Iraqi security forces' growing capabilities to maintain internal security and protect Iraqi sovereignty.
"The Iraqis have been doing the majority of the security work for some time now," he said. "And so I feel very confident that they will be able to continue. There will be ups and downs. There will be mad days, but they will continue to provide adequate security."
Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, U.S. Forces Iraq's deputy commander for advising and training, agreed that Iraqi security forces are up to the challenges they face.
"After seven years of hard and dangerous work, and the certification of the election results, the [Iraqi forces are] ready to take on full responsibility for the internal security of Iraq," he wrote in a blog posted earlier this month. "Iraq's security forces are better today in ever," he continued, noting that eight out of 10 Iraqis have expressed confidence in their ability to do their job.
Barbero cited some of the initiatives under way to further improve those capabilities.
Iraqi crews are preparing to man the first of 140 M1 tanks that began rolling into Iraq this summer. In addition, 11 Iraqi army-run training centers across the country are running at full bore, and the Iraqi army is focusing on specialized individual skills and preparing for a major joint train exercise planned for April 2011.
Lanza, who visited an airfield yesterday to observe Iraqi pilots training on T-6 trainers, cited progress in building long-term capabilities within the Iraqi air force.
It now operates more than 100 aircraft, Barbero reported, and has nearly doubled its force in the past year with plans to grow to 10,000 airmen.
"Iraq is training its own helicopter pilots and is building a cadre of fixed-wing trainers who will help provide a steady flow of skilled flyers to defend Iraq's skies well into the next decade," he said.
The Iraqi navy now includes 50 vessels, which conduct 50 patrols a month to protect offshore oil infrastructure, territorial waters and commercial ports, Barbero said. Additionally, the first of 15 new, U.S.-built patrol boats is slated to arrive in Iraq later this summer, and the second group of Iraqi sailors will soon be training in Louisiana.
Barbero also expressed confidence in Iraq's counterterrorism forces, which he said "are now very experienced and effective as they run both independent and joint operations, maintaining pressure on violent extremists in Iraq."
He reported additional progress within Iraq's interior ministry, which has fielded a force of more than 410,000 police across the country. "The Iraqi police are completely in the lead today, protecting the people in the cities and gathering evidence when crimes are committed," he said.
U.S. advisors train only in a few specialized areas at the 18 Iraqi-run police training centers, he noted.
These developments give Barbero no qualms about the transition to Operation New Dawn in just a few days.
"I have no doubt that the [Iraqi forces] are ready to take on the mission Sept. 1 and to successfully take the first steps toward what will indeed be a new dawn for the people of Iraq," he said.
Meanwhile, Barbero re-emphasized that the United States will remain at the Iraqi security forces' side -– the advise-and-assist brigades, at the tactical and unit level, and the advising and training directorate, at the ministerial and strategic level. "We will remain partnered every step of the way as the [Iraqi forces] continue to develop and build their skills until December 2011," he said.
Until then, Barbero urged renewed urgency in fulfilling the U.S. mission in Iraq. "This is the most critical part of the mission, the point when a commander brings all of his resources together to close with and achieve his objective," he said. "I believe we are at this point now -– in the last 100 meters of this mission."