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Planners Gather in Bucharest to Discuss Fighting Terror

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BUCHAREST, Romania, May 24, 2005 – Military planners from 68 nations are gathered here today and May 25 for discussions on the current situation and the way ahead in the global war on terror.

Army Lt. Gen. Walter L. Sharp, the Joint Staff's director for strategic plans and policy, is co-host of the Multilateral Planners Conference III, along with his Romanian counterpart, Brig. Gen. Valeriu Nicut. The first such conference took place in May 2004 at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, in Washington, D.C., and the second was held in the Polish capital of Warsaw in October.

Today's agenda focused on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. May 25 meetings are scheduled to address the larger issues of fighting terrorism around the globe.

Noting that Romanian journalists who had been held hostage in Iraq returned home safely May 23, Nicut said the conference begins in an atmosphere of "renewed hope and enthusiasm" in Romania, a former Soviet satellite. He expressed hope that MPC III would build on momentum he saw emerge in Warsaw. Indeed, 10 more nations are represented in Bucharest than attended the Warsaw conference, and the Warsaw conference attracted 13 more nations than the inaugural gathering in Washington.

Sharp promised the conference would help participants identify the enemy in the global war on terror, determine the threat that enemy poses, and share ideas on what the international community can do to counter that threat.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Sargeant, Multinational Force Iraq's deputy chief of staff for strategy, plans and assessment, gave conferees an update on the Iraq campaign. Since the Warsaw conference, he said, the Jan. 30 national-assembly election in Iraq has dealt a heavy blow to the insurgency, and the Iraqi security forces have taken on more responsibility for their country's security. Iraq's economy continues to improve, he said, and popular support for the insurgency continues to erode.

Though exiled Baathists are directing only a small portion of the insurgency, the general said, former-regime officers are active and pose the greatest long-term threat. He also noted that as the capabilities of "hard-core cadres" in the insurgency decrease, he foresees a latent threat in all regions of Iraq from other franchises that proliferate.

Progress in achieving the coalition's objectives in Iraq is "broadly on track," Sargeant said, though the insurgency won't go away overnight. Historically, he said, insurgencies manage to keep active for about nine years.

The promise for the future, he said, lies with the Iraqi security forces. He noted that the MNFI mission is to progressively transition the counterinsurgency campaign to Iraqis, while continuing to aggressively pursue counterinsurgency operations alongside and in support of Iraqi security forces.

Sargeant said Syria could have a profoundly negative effect on the insurgency by denying operational sanctuary to groups seeking to derail Iraq's political process. Iran, he said, probably will be cautious in its dealings with the transitional Iraqi government while more aggressively pursuing intelligence penetration.

The general noted that media coverage of Iraq tends to focus on insurgent attacks rather than progress, noting that television viewers around the world always seem to see a cloud of smoke in news coverage of the country. But "there aren't that many clouds of smoke when you look at 28 million people across Iraq," Sargeant said.

Still, he acknowledged that while the security situation is relatively good in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces, it will take time for Iraqi security forces to take over the security mission nationwide. The threat level in any given area causes variations in the extent to which Iraqi security forces can take the lead in security, he explained, adding that coalition partnerships in each area are tailored specifically to each situation.

Partnerships -- with 10-member teams of coalition forces essentially living and working with Iraqi forces at the division, brigade and battalion levels -- provide expertise and training for the Iraqis while also providing linkage back to the MNFI unit partnered with the Iraqi unit, Sargeant said. Assessments of the arrangement will take place in June, September and December to determine whether the partnership teams have the right number of people in the appropriate combination of skills and to determine the level of Iraqi security forces' competence in any given place, he said.

The general noted that every milestone set forth in U. N. Security Council Resolution 1546's timeline for Iraq's political process has been met so far, and he expressed confidence that continued success lies ahead. To meet remaining deadlines, the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly must come up with a constitution by Aug. 15. After a period of national discussion, a national referendum on the constitution is set for Oct. 15, followed by national elections for a permanent Iraqi government in December.

"We'll fight our way to the constitution, and we'll fight our way to the election," Sargeant said, with Iraqi security forces more and more in the lead.

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