Iraqi Tank Brigade Assumes Combat Responsibility
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2006 As the new Iraqi army attains capability, more units are taking over security responsibility within their country. The latest example is the Iraqi 2nd Brigade of the 9th Mechanized Division, which assumed responsibility for security in the Taji area during a ceremony here today.
Soldiers hold the flag of the Iraqi 2nd Brigade, 9th Mechanized Division, during an assumption of responsibility ceremony May 15. The brigade will have responsibility for 150 square kilometers around Camp Taji. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The brigade will be "in the lead" in defending 150 square kilometers of the region, including the cities of Saab al Bour and Hor al Bash.
The 2nd Brigade, which is the only Iraqi armored unit with T-72 tanks and BMP armored personnel carriers, is called the "jewel of Iraq" by military leaders in the country, said U.S. Army Maj. Jeremy Hoffman, a military transition team officer for the brigade.
During the ceremony, U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Thompkins, commander of 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, turned over responsibility for the territory to Iraqi Col. Jamal Mal-Allah Ahmed.
"This is a great day for the 9th Mechanized Division," Iraqi Maj. Gen. Ayoub Bashar, commander of the division, said through an interpreter. "A lot has been achieved by this young division, achievements that have done a lot to increase the division's combat capabilities."
Soldiers of the 7-10 Cavalry have been serving as mentors, coaches and battle partners to the 2nd Brigade since January, Thompson said. "We have fought together shoulder to shoulder for the past few months against the enemies of a free Iraq," the colonel said. "With the 2nd Brigade now in the lead, we look forward to continuing our partnership to provide security for the Iraqi people."
The Scorpions, a U.S. military training team, has worked with the brigade since it formed in October. The brigade had no personnel, weapons, uniforms, housing or tanks just seven months ago, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Carl Grunow, senior advisor to the 2nd Brigade. American and Iraqi soldiers worked together closely to build the brigade capabilities, he said.
Bashar spoke of the role the U.S. team played in helping the brigade. "I especially thank the American MTT team, who worked day and night, hand in hand with their brothers of the 2nd Brigade," he said.
The military training team and the 7-10 Cavalry will not simply turn responsibility over to the Iraqis and leave the area. Grunow said his team and its successor will continue to mentor and coach the Iraqi unit in training and in combat. The soldiers of the 7-10 Cavalry also will continue to operate with their Iraqi counterparts in the region.
The 2nd Brigade will report to the commander of the U.S. 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. Officials expect that next month this command arrangement will change as the Iraqi 9th Mechanized Division is validated and assumes responsibility for the area covered by both the 1st Brigade and 2nd Brigade.
The 9th Division commander said he is looking forward to that day, and is working with 4th Division soldiers and military training teams to speed its arrival. "We should be the pioneer to sacrifice and defend the Iraqi nation, its freedom and achievements against terrorists and those who may attempt to violate Iraqi freedom and trespass its land and violate its earth," Bashar said.
The commander looked directly at Iraqi military Chief of Staff Gen. Babakir Shawkat Zebari and said the division is "prepared to carry out their motto: 'Iraq First.'
"These men are dedicated to keeping Iraq safe," he said.
After the ceremony, Babakir said he is pleased with the unit's capabilities and proud of its soldiers. He said more and more Iraqi units are working to assume security responsibilities. By the end of the year, all Iraqi divisions will be up and running and "in the lead," he said.
Bashar told the soldiers of the brigade that he has full trust in them to succeed in their mission. "You will go after the terrorists and intruders who are trying to break down Iraq," he said. "You are going to give terrorists a painful lesson in this area. That will cause the terrorists to stay out of this area or else be killed."