By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 25, 2010 - When Operation Iraqi Freedom ends and Operation New Dawn launches Sept. 1, don't look for a lot of fanfare as the mission officially moves from combat to stability operations, the top U.S. Forces Iraq spokesman told American Forces Press Service today.
Except for a ceremony in which Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno will pass command of U.S. forces in Iraq to Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, there will be no official observances of other transitions that already are well under way, Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza said by phone from Baghdad.
"I think it's not going to look much different on 2 September," he said. "To be perfectly honest with you, we've been in stability operations for many months now," essentially since U.S. combat troops left Iraqi cities last June.
U.S. forces haven't conducted unilateral operations in Iraq since May 2009, Lanza said. "Everything has been done by, with and through the Iraqi forces," he added.
Meanwhile, the troop drawdown has proceeded smoothly and ahead of schedule. The last full brigade of U.S. combat troops left Iraq last week, and U.S. troop strength dipped below 50,000 yesterday, meeting President Barack Obama's directive a week early.
These developments have set the stage for Operation New Dawn, a mission Lanza said is particularly significant because it coincides with a changeover from a military to a civilian lead in Iraq. This includes the transition from the U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement that governs U.S. troops in Iraq to implementation of the strategic framework agreement by the U.S. Embassy.
The strategic framework agreement is broader in scope, Lanza explained, establishing the foundation for a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq, long after the last U.S. troops leave in December 2011.
As these transitions unfold, U.S. forces will conduct three major missions during Operation New Dawn, he said.
They'll continue to partner with Iraqi special operations forces in counterinsurgency operations and to advise and assist Iraqi security forces. By embedding with their Iraqi counterparts down to the battalion level, six U.S. advise-and-assist teams have made big strides in quickly building capacity as well as capability, he said.
"More importantly, it has helped us build relationships with these forces to continue to train them," Lanza said. "So that is something we will continue to do until our mission ends in December 2011."
Meanwhile, U.S. troops also will continue to support State Department-run provincial reconstruction teams working to build civil capacity and civil institutions.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has been working hard to bring the parties together to break a near-standstill in forming Iraq's national government. But Lanza said he doesn't expect any major developments until after Ramadan in the latter part of September at the earliest.
He emphasized that Iraq's provincial governors and councils are functioning, with the provincial reconstruction teams and the U.S. Agency for International Development working with provincial leaders to help them build capability and develop their institutions. But much of their success, he acknowledged, will depend on what happens at the federal government level.
"I would suggest, both from a security perspective and also from a security capacity perspective, that the quicker the government gets seated, obviously, the better that is," Lanza said. "We want to see the Iraqis succeed. And we believe that if they get this government moving, they will have that opportunity."
Lanza recognized the potential Operation New Dawn will open up for Iraq.
"Iraq has an opportunity here to do something very unique in this region," he said. "We have sacrificed a lot here, the Iraqis have sacrificed a lot here, and there is a potential right now, an opportunity right now, for Iraq to be a safe, sovereign and self-reliant country."
Once achieving that state, Iraq could serve an effective role in enhancing security and economic growth and stability throughout the region, he said.
"The jury is still out on how long that is going to take to occur," Lanza said. "But I would just say that the sacrifices that have been made have given the Iraqis an opportunity to move forward here. And we are seeing that return on investment."