Marine Adviser Building Iraqi 'Super Company' in Hit Region
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 4, 2006 Bringing the Iraqi army to the lead in the country's beleaguered Anbar province is a tough assignment. But Marines assigned to the military transition team at Firm Base 4 here have taken it on.
Vehicles return from a patrol in Hit, Iraq. Army troops work with Iraqi soldiers to maintain order in the Euphrates River city in Anbar province. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Along with soldiers of Battalion Task Force 1-36, they are working to train Iraqi soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Division.
Anbar province is the seat of the Iraqi insurgency, and members of al Qaeda in Iraq also swim in the toxic terrorist pool. But innovative ideas are making progress here.
"We're putting together a sort of 'super company' of Iraqi forces here," Marine Lt. Col. Greg Branigan, senior adviser to the Iraqis and military transition team chief, said here yesterday. "They know individual skills. They need their own space so they can come up with an Iraqi solution to the road ahead."
The super company will contain the most-motivated, best-trained soldiers in the battalion. It will have about 140 soldiers and will be based across the Euphrates River from this city of roughly 30,000 people. The town, Hai al Bekr, is no sinecure, the colonel said. "There are bad guys operating in the area," said Iraqi Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Abdul Salam. "It is not as densely populated, but it will be an opportunity for us to operate independently."
American soldiers will still be partnered with the Iraqis, but there will be fewer, and they will be there mostly for training, overwatch and to provide added force if it is needed. "They need their own parcel of real estate to find their way," Branigan said. "They need to make their own mistakes and learn from them. We are not going to make them into an image of the American Army. They are Iraqis, and they will make themselves into an effective fighting force in the Iraqi way."
If the super company is successful, then it will expand and take over security responsibilities on the Hit side of the river, too.
But a huge obstacle stands in the way of this project -- one that bedevils all training in the Iraqi army: the leave system.
Iraqi soldiers here are on duty 30 days and then have 10 days of leave. They go home, they bring the money they have earned back to their families, and they decompress. But in many cases, they do not come back to the unit at the end of the leave. And there is no penalty for not coming back.
The Iraqis do not sign an enlistment contract. They do not swear to support and defend the constitution. If they feel they have done enough, or if their families are threatened by insurgents for their continued service in the army, then they simply stay home, Branigan explained.
Branigan and Salam traveled to the various firm bases and combat outposts to speak to the Iraqi soldiers about the project and about the importance of coming back to the unit following leave. Branigan told the soldiers that the super company is their chance to prove themselves to the Iraqi people. "With this super company, it will be your officers, your warrant officers and your NCOs in charge of the patrols," he said through a translator. "You will be in charge of the security."
He assured the Iraqis that the American Army unit would be present to provide support if they needed it, but also reminded them that in the four months the Germany-based unit has been in place, "it has never fired a main tank gun, never fired artillery and never called for air support. You have enough training and motivation to handle this problem."
Salam said the soldiers have proven themselves as brave and capable soldiers during patrols with U.S. forces. "It is time to move to the next step," he said. "It is time to train as we fight."
Branigan stressed that Americans will not win the war on the insurgents; Iraqis will win that war, he said. "The most important thing is not your weapons, it is you," he told the the Iraqi soldiers. "You need to show the Iraqi people that the Iraqi army is growing, it is gaining in capabilities and is becoming a force.
"The only way we can lose this is if you do not come back (after leave)," he continued. "In 10 or 15 years, when you are sitting with your children and enjoying the benefits of a new Iraq, don't you want to say that you made a difference? That you fought for a new, democratic country? Or do you want to say, 'It was too tough, so I left'?"
"Who will answer this challenge?" the colonel asked.
All of the hands went up.
Both the Americans and Iraqis want the company in place quickly. "In the next few weeks, we should be operational," Salam said. "That is when we will see the difference. Inshallah (God willing)."