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DoD Press Briefing with Col. Butch Kievenaar at the Pentagon Briefing Room via Videoconference from Iraq

Presenters: Commander, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division Colonel Butch Kievenaar
July 14, 2009
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Good morning. My name is Butch Kievanaar -- (audio break) -- talk to you today about the operations over the last year in the southern provinces of Iraq.
           
            Our brigade and battalions have moved multiple times over the last year, based off the fast and ever-changing security environment here in Iraq. (Audio break) -- provinces of Qadisiyah, otherwise known as Diwaniyah, Najaf and southern Babil, while providing a combat arms battalion to Multinational Division North in Kirkuk, eventually moving to Mosul, and a battalion in Wasit that eventually moved to Babil.
           
            As background, the Brigade arrived in Iraq in September of 2008 where we replaced a Polish contingent in what was formerly known as Multinational Division Center South.
           
            With our assumption -- (audio break) -- transition to the control of the Multinational Division Center, which was under the command of the 10th Mountain Division.
           
            In April of 2009 we moved a portion of the Brigade to Basra and assumed responsibility for the province from the 20th U.K. Brigade on the 1st of May.
           
            During this transition, Multinational Division Center became Multinational Division South, and the 10th Mountain transferred authority to the 34th Infantry Division.
           
            Next month we're scheduled to redeploy back to Fort Carson, Colorado, having completed a 12-month deployment. 
           
            I'd like to take a moment to tell you about the Brigade. The Warhorse Brigade is about 4,000 soldiers strong. It comprises two combined arms battalions, a cavalry squadron, one field artillery battalion, a special troops battalion, and a brigade support battalion.
           
            One of our combined arms battalions, 167 Armor, is currently serving in Multinational Division North in Mosul with 316 Field Artillery, my field artillery battalion, currently working with the 172nd Infantry Brigade in Babil.
           
            Our mission here has been to train, advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces across four provinces and to enable the provincial reconstruction teams in their effort to improve the governance and economics capability of the Iraqi provincial governments.
           
            The Warhorse Brigade has invested significant time and energy in the professionalization of our Iraqi counterparts. The brigade started with an assessment of the training proficiency for the Iraq Army, police, and the Department of Border Enforcement, followed by a mutually agreed-upon training plan that focused on building sustainable capacity.
           
            Sustainable capacity refers to building basic and realistic systems for both training and logistics in the Iraqi Security Forces.
           
            For example, our leadership works closely with the Iraqi Army leadership on establishing and maintaining effective command-and-control nodes coupled to basic reporting systems that would allow them to sustain security and stay ahead of the criminal elements operating in their areas.
           
            At the soldier level, the focus was more on teaching the Iraqi leadership how to train and certify their young NCOs and officers so that they can continue to maintain the unit's proficiency well after our departure. 
           
            This effort was the cornerstone of our campaign and a key contributor to the improvements in the security situation that was demonstrated during the provincial elections and enabled the successful transition of the security responsibility for the cities.
           
            We functionally aligned our subordinate organizations in order to better enable the various transition teams to advise their Iraqi counterparts.
           
            In addition, each of our functionally aligned battalions form a partnership alongside those transition teams that maximize training and greatly enhance the flow of information.
           
            The Iraqi Security Forces in Basra are very good and they are providing the security for the people of the province. 
           
            We assist them by providing tools they don't yet have in terms of reconnaissance platforms, intelligence, and helicopters. Everything that we do is in coordination with Basra leaders. 
           
            The enemy has tried to put pressure on the security forces, but the security forces have detained many of those individuals and have successfully disrupted many of the operations, thereby keeping Basra safe and a secure a province.
           
            June 30th marked a significant milestone for the citizens of Basra as the Iraqi Security Forces assumed responsibility for their city. 
           
            We have turned over a total of four patrol bases since our arrival to Basra. All four of those bases were handed back over to the Iraqi Security Forces. We are scheduled to close two more bases before we redeploy.
           
            We have also significantly reduced the number of our soldiers inside the city of Basra. Upon my arrival, the Brigade had over 500 soldiers inside the city, and we now have less that 200 soldiers operating inside the city.
           
            These soldiers remain at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces and the provincial government to continue our partnership and training from these combined command and control centers.
           
            These locations are predominantly with the Iraqi Army, and I want to emphasize we are only in the remaining locations because we've been asked to stay there, and are there to coordinate, conduct joint command and control training, and provide enablers to the Iraqi Security Forces.
           
            All vehicle movements and training events are coordinated daily with the Basra Operations Center, and our daytime vehicle movements inside the city are supported with the Iraqi Security Force escorts.
           
            While my Brigade's primary focus is to train and enable the Iraqi Security Forces, we're also heavily involved in assisting the government by improving essential services for the citizens of Basra.
           
            The city of Basra has many challenges with its essential services, such as electricity, water, sewage, and trash. Together with the provincial reconstruction team, we have over 100 projects ongoing in the Basra province, totaling just over $62 million.
           
            We spent approximately $12 million on electricity. We have built several substations and electric -- and 11 kilovolt lines that will enable the distribution of electricity to local households throughout the province.
           
            We've also spent about $12 million on trash removal. One of the major issues that has plagued Basra for years is the presence of large piles of scrap metal throughout the city. 
           
            Most of the scrap metal comes from multiple wars -- the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
           
            Many of the citizens of Basra believed these scrap metal piles were contaminated. We've tested the scrap metal and -- along with scientists from the University of Basra, and found no contamination.
           
            We have removed over 80 truckloads of scrap metal so far, which will enable the municipalities to then focus repairs on water and sewage infrastructure and provide usable real estate for the province to develop.
           
            We've also spent about $8.2 million on water. As you know, Iraq is in the middle of a drought and its effects are especially bad here in the south. 
           
            We are focused right now on getting the main water plant to increase water production and the flow of water to the city -- throughout the city of Basra. It will help provide adequate fresh water supplies to the population.
           
            These projects are all designed to help improve the quality of life of the people of Basra. These projects are all coordinated, supervised, and prioritized by the provincial government.
           
            Thank you once again for attending today's press conference, and I will now take your questions.
           
            STAFF: Okay.
           
            Gordon?
           
            Q     Sir, Gordon Lubold, from the Christian Science Monitor.
           
            I'm interested in the perception, I guess, among Iraqis that American soldiers are still on the streets. You spoke to the 200 or so that are, I think you said, remain in Basra at the request of the Iraqis.
           
            Can you just talk a little bit more about that? What kind of feedback you've gotten from local leaders about the presence, post the June 30 pullout?
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Yeah. The -- you're coming in real weak, but I think the question is that you want to know what the sense is from the population about our presence after the 30 June pullout?
           
            Q     Correct.
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: The -- it's actually pretty positive. At the leader level, there's absolutely no question why we're there.
           
            We've had the governor and a lot of the local leaders out talking, because most of the time when we are in the city we are at different projects that are in different stages of operation, helping either verify the completion of them so that the contractor can get paid, or working through certain issues with the local leaders and the municipality and DGs in terms of the supervision of those projects, to make sure they are accomplishing what they're being paid to do.
           
            At the civilian level, there's still a little bit of apprehension as to why we are in the cities. And a lot of that has to do with just no general knowledge of what we are doing or not doing.
           
            But there's been a strong information campaign that has been done by the Iraqi leaders, the Iraq Security Force leaders, the Iraqi provincial leaders, explaining to the population exactly why we're there.
           
            So we have not met with any real resistance, and it has really not changed dramatically the operations that we've been doing since we arrived here.
           
            When we came here in May, we knew that by the end of June that you'd have to be out of the cities, in concert with the security agreement. So I've never had combat forces inside the city.
           
            When we do operations in the city; we are in support of the Iraqi Security Forces, and we've been doing training and we have been trying to do integrated operations from a humanitarian perspective since we've been here, with both the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police.
           
            So I think all of those things kind of set the conditions for the population to understand that we're not in here trying to take over security operations. We are only here to help make a difference for the Iraqi people and to continue to work to improve the capabilities of their own security forces.
           
            Q     This is Joe Tabet, sir, with Al-Hurra.
           
            I would like to hear from you what's your assessment regarding the Iraqi forces. How do you see their capabilities, their needs, regarding equipment, weapons --
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Again, I'm having a real hard time hearing you. I think what you were asking is what was my assessment of the Iraqi Security Forces, and then I heard something about weapons, but I don't -- I didn't catch what you were asking about weapons.
           
            Q     Yeah. I was asking you, sir, how do you see their capabilities and do they need -- what kind of needs -- you think they should get.
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: In terms of their capabilities, both the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police, as well as the Department of Border Enforcement, are fully capable of providing the security that this province enjoys. 
           
            As I stated in the last question, since we have been here, the day-to-day security is provided by the Iraqi Security Forces. 
           
            What we do is we work with them, especially at the staff levels -- at the brigade and division levels and in the operations centers -- to help them understand how to take all of this information and turn it into targetable intelligence, which keeps them ahead of those groups that would try to influence the security situation here.
           
            As well as we help provide some reconnaissance platforms that they will have in the future but currently do not have, like UAVs, et cetera.
           
            And so we help provide them a capability in terms of intelligence that they don't currently possess and need continued work on.
           
            In terms of day-to-day operations -- in terms of providing security, running checkpoints, if there is somebody that needs to be picked up, picking them up -- those things are done by the Iraqi Security Forces every day, unilaterally, and done very efficiently.
           
            I still never could understand the question about equipment. 
           
            Over.
           
            STAFF: Are you hearing me better from the lectern? Can I pass along the question for you?
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Yes, I can hear you.
           
            Q     The second part of Joe's question had to do with the equipment, weapons, things of that nature that you assess that the Iraqi Security Forces might need further assistance with.
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Okay. The further assistance I think that they need is in terms of the reconnaissance capabilities.
           
            They're going to need some measure of unmanned aerial vehicles to be able to support their operations, as well as they're going to need some basic SIGINT and HUMINT capabilities.
           
            And then what we have to do is -- and what we're working on right now -- is teaching them how to use all that and then turn it into what we call actionable intelligence.
           
            Right now what they have is great support from the local population in calling in tips, but they have no real way to validate whether that information is true or not until we layer on some of the ISR capabilities we have here.
           
            And so for them to continue in the types of operations that they've been -- conducted, they need to purchase some of that type of equipment.
           
            Q     Yeah. Sir, let me follow up. I would like also to hear from you what's -- how do you see the security situation in Basra right now? And do you have any concerns regarding Shi'ite extremist groups related to Iran?
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: The security situation in Basra right now I would say is very stable and secure. 
           
            In terms of the extremist elements, we've seen some of them return to the province. What we have not been able to really put together is whether they are pursuing any real militia agenda, or what I believe is that they are really pursuing a criminal agenda.
           
            They still have relationships from the groups that they were in before, but they kind of crossed some of the different special groups' lines that they used to participate in.
           
            And I believe what they're doing right now is trying to gain influence and thereby being able to control portions of the city where they can extort money. The Security Force is doing a very good job of picking those guys up when they come back into the city. 
           
            But I have not been able to put together any real militia theme or anything else to see what -- how they're working towards any of those ends as they had done in the past.
           
            But those guys that had run off to Iran, some of them have come back. And their Security Forces here have picked up a number of those individuals as they have tried to return to Basra.
           
            Q     My name's David Morgan. I'm with Reuters.
           
            Can you give us your assessment of the threat that Shi'ite militias potentially pose in Basra, and if they are mainly extorting money, does that suggest that Iran's influence has diminished?
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Okay. Well, the answer to the first question is because I haven't seen them pursue a real militia agenda, I don't see a significant threat that they pose at this point.
           
            And I do not see anything in the foreseeable future that cannot be handled by the Iraqi Security Forces in Basra province.
           
            In terms of whether or not they are receiving support from Iran, there are certain groups that still receive support. But by and large, most of the individuals that we see or deal with on a daily basis are no longer receiving that kind of -- the same support that they were receiving before from Iran.
           
            They're not receiving the money, so they can't pay the people that used to work as part of their groups. They're not able to, as freely as they were before, able to get the resources with which to then be able to attack either the Security Forces or us.
           
            And so the -- what we see now is more legacy-type of ammunition than we used to see before. 
           
            But there are things like Kataeb Hezbollah who still receive funding and resources from Iran, and those are the cells that we get most concerned about when you start talking about EFPs and IRAM-type capabilities that you've seen sporadically through the south here over the last two or three months.
           
            Q     Sir, again, this is Joe Tabet. Let me follow up on David's question.
           
            You mentioned the Hezbollah. Could you identify other groups?
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Other groups that we're looking at? Is that the question?
           
            Q     I mean the groups that you said that are extremist elements.
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Yeah. They -- we have all types. We have some elements from Sabahat. We have some elements from the Promised Day Brigade, some elements that have been associated with Kataeb Hezbollah, as I stated before.
           
            And we've seen rumors, but have no real reporting that there is a small al Qaeda presence down in the south, south of Basra.
           
            But again, I don't see most of these groups pursuing any type of an agenda. The only one I see pursuing any type of agenda is Kataeb Hezbollah, at least down in Basra province.
           
            STAFF: Okay. Any questions further?
           
            Colonel, it looks like we're out of questions here at the Pentagon. If you have some closing remarks you'd like to make, it's over to you.
           
            COL. KIEVENAAR: Okay. Yeah, I've got one thing I'd like to be able to say back to all of our families.
           
            I'd like to thank everybody for your attendance today. Our soldiers are making a huge difference for the people of Iraq. I'm confident in their hard work, professionalism, and dedication that has resulted in a safe and secure Basra province that I believe will flourish in the future.
           
            There remains a lot of work to be accomplished, but there is a sense of hope and opportunity with the Iraqi people that did not exist here before.
           
            This is the result of all the sacrifice that our soldiers and our families have made over the last year. Our families continue to be the unsung heroes who hold down the fort so that their soldiers can focus on their mission while deployed.
           
            I want to thank each and every one of them and let them know we look forward to coming home next month.
           
            Thank you very much.
           
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