Friday, December 08, 2006

Transition Teams Essential to Success of Iraqi Forces

By Donna Miles and Sgt. Sara Wood, USA

Dec. 8, 2006 –
U.S. military transition teams in Iraq and Afghanistan are making a big contribution as they not only advise and mentor local security forces, but also set an example of professionalism in daily operations, senior military officers told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. George Flynn, commander of Training and Education Command, joined Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, the Army deputy chief of staff for operations, and Army Maj. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of 1st Infantry Division, in describing the work of more than 400 military transition teams in the theater and the training they receive before deploying.

These teams, made up of soldiers or Marines who embed with and train members of the Iraqi army and police and the Afghan National Army, serve as advisors on intelligence, fire support, communications, logistics and combat tactics, techniques and procedures.

Officials call them a key part of the strategy to build capability within the Iraq and Afghan forces, and the Iraq Study Group recommended in its Dec. 6 report that DoD raise the number of trainers to as many as 20,000.

Ham, who oversees the transition teams' training, said it's become more rigorous in recent months, with more selectivity and emphasis on standardized training. About half the people going through the training have served past deployments in the Middle East, he said, but he emphasized that what's most important isn't individual experience but a team's collective experience.

"It's not necessary that all 11 members of a battalion team have previous experience as long as enough of them do that they can share that experience," Ham said. "And we endeavor, with the Human Resources Command as they build those teams, to ensure that is the case."

The program is well-resourced, he said, noting that the most important resource is the leadership of the division headquarters and two combat brigades dedicated to the mission. "They are very, very capable of executing this mission," he said.

Ham said he hopes to improve their capability with more Iraqi linguists -- "probably the toughest resource to get" -- and actual Iraqi and Afghan leaders to interact with the military transition teams and participate in the training. The number one task that early deploying transition teams asked for more training in was cultural awareness, he noted.

"Of course, it's quite a different culture than our own," he said. "And in preparing our officers and noncommissioned officers for that environment, we have repeatedly added additional training to make sure that they are prepared for that -- to understand the nature of tribal construct, to understand the influence of Islam through all of Iraqi life."

The Army,
Air Force and Navy consolidated transition team training at Fort Riley, Kansas, in June in order to standardize the training and economize the use of resources, Ham said. Through December, 50 teams -- about 500 troops -- will have trained and deployed to Iraq from Fort Riley, and an additional 1,400 are in training at the base now, he said.

The training is modified frequently to meet constantly changing conditions in theater, Ham said. Recent changes include updating the training of improvised explosive device tactics, a recent introduction of counter-sniper training, and the adaptation of tactics, techniques and procedures developed by teams that are now in Iraq. In the coming year, the 1st Infantry Division will train about 6,000 officers and noncommissioned officers in teams of varying sizes and missions, he said.

"The training at Fort Riley is vital to our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division are dedicated to fully supporting the combatant commander's mission requirements," he said.

The teams that are being trained right now are normally 11-man teams, usually made up of infantrymen, fires specialists, logisticians, intelligence specialists, a communicator and a corpsman, Flynn said. The teams in Multinational Force West are being boosted to 20 people to provide drivers and additional communicators, he said. The members of these teams have a dual role, both training the local forces and augmenting them with additional capabilities that aren't yet developed, he said.

"Also by their presence ... they're setting a personal example being there," Flynn said. "But they just don't sit there and advise. They're also skilled -- have skill sets to be trainers and to teach some of these skills."

The training teams' worth has been proven by the continued development of the Iraqi security forces, Lovelace said. Right now, six Iraqi division headquarters, 27 brigades and 88 battalions are in the lead in their respective areas, he said.

Ham noted that the Iraqis do have the will to become a competent, capable force. "The Iraqi commanders are concerned about their own capabilities," Ham said. "They're concerned about whether or not they will be fully supported by their government. They have lots of concerns, but they understand the role that they must play in order to provide for stability inside their own country. So, I think generally the teams would report that the feedback from the Iraqi counterparts is quite positive."

It takes time to develop good advisors on the transition teams, Flynn said. Troops often need to learn patience and understand the importance of personal relations, in addition to learning about Iraqi culture, he noted. Returning troops who have been part of a transition team are a valuable asset in this area, as they can bring back their lessons learned and help with training, he said.

Whether or not the Iraqi security forces will be ready to take over security for their own country in the next year and a half is not solely dependent on their development and capabilities, all the generals agreed. Events on the ground and the enemy's actions also contribute to the Iraqi forces' readiness, so it's hard to put a timeline on the training, Lovelace said.

"I'd say the key factor for the Iraqi security forces would be the full support of their government," he said. "If they've got that, that will be the key move forward. ... There is clear recognition that this is a different kind of fight, and increasingly inside Iraq (there is an) effort to ... make sure the leaders understand the nature of the conflict in which they find themselves."

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