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Coalition Remains Strong Two Years Into Iraqi Freedom

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., March 15, 2005 – Just days before the second anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the coalition supporting the operation "is probably healthier and stronger than any other international coalition," according to the deputy chief of coalition operations for U.S. Central Command, which has its headquarters here.

The 72-nation coalition supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom "is making significant contributions" and remains committed to the cause, Marine Corps Col. Kerry Burkholder told American Forces Press Service.

Burkholder said support increased sharply following combat operations and remains strong. "When we started stabilization operations, a lot of countries stepped forward with a lot of troops," he said.

Today, 25 coalition members are contributing more than 20,000 troops to the operation. The Poles lead the Multinational Division Center-South; the British lead the Multinational Division South-East; and the Koreans lead the Multinational Division North-East, Burkholder said.

But coalition support goes far beyond ground troops, he explained. Equally critical are missions that directly support operations: security and maritime-interdiction operations, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, among other missions.

In addition, Burkholder said, many coalition members have stepped up to the plate to provide humanitarian support. They're building hospitals and schools, digging wells and conducting demining operations.

Other members have provided more behind-the-scenes support, backing the coalition politically, donating money and supplies, and providing out-of-country training or other support.

While some members of the coalition are extremely open about their support, "some countries are doing things they don't want discussed," Burkholder said.

Coalition members have boosted their support as needed to keep the coalition strong, he said. When Spain announced its withdrawal from Iraq following last year's terrorist attacks and the election of a new president, other coalition members quickly offered to step in and take over Spain's responsibilities.

Similarly, Burkholder said, several coalition members bumped up their troop numbers or reconfigured their rotation cycles to provide increased support during Iraq's Jan. 30 elections -- some at a time when they were planning to reduce their troop presence there.

Keeping the coalition strong and cohesive requires overcoming obstacles such as language differences, equipment incompatibilities and different ways of operating, Burkholder said.

It's also required the United States to review some of its long-standing practices and help other coalition nations that need it through equipment loans and donations and airlift support to and within the region, he said.

But most of all, Burkholder said, it requires a willingness for the nations to work together as a team.

"These guys are acting like partners, and they want to be treated like partners," Burkholder said. "A number of these countries are really anxious to prove they're world leaders in their own right, and they want to join the ranks of the world leaders."

Burkholder said he's impressed by what he's seen among coalition members. "These countries are very capable and well led," he said. "They're going great work, and they're spending and expending their national treasures in both blood and gold."

They understand the ramifications of putting their troops on the ground and contributing, he continued, as well as the consequences of not contributing in terms of their own and the world's long-term security. "They recognize that this is truly a global war on terror," Burkholder said.

Burkholder's comments echoed those expressed earlier this month by President Bush. During a March 8 speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Bush said the United States is not alone in the war on terror and that America "is more secure today because dozens of other countries have stepped up to the fight."

"Many governments have awakened to the dangers we share and have begun to take serious action," the president said. "Global terror requires a global response."

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