MR. WHITMAN: Well, let's just see if -- we've got a good picture; let's make sure General Bolger can hear us okay.
General, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon.
GEN. BOLGER: Bryan, I can hear you fine.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, thank you for joining us this morning. This is the first opportunity we've had to meet with you in this format.
And by way of introduction, this is Major General Daniel Bolger, who is the Multi-National Division Baghdad commanding general. He assumed his duties there in February of 2008 (sic/2009) and obviously has a very important area of responsibility there in Iraq.
And so, General, thank you again for joining us and sharing your perspective -- I know you have a few comments that you'd like to make to start with -- and then for taking some questions here from the press corps.
So with that, let me turn it over to you.
GEN. BOLGER: Well, thanks very much. Hey, good morning, everybody. Good morning to all of you. As Bryan mentioned, my name is Dan Bolger. Sort of rhymes with "soldier." I'm the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.
And here in Iraq I serve as the commander of the Multi-National Division Baghdad, as Bryan mentioned. In this role, I lead about 31,000 U.S. soldiers, as well as some sailors, airmen and Marines. And our mission is to protect the 7 million people of Baghdad, and that's Baghdad province. There's about 6 million in the city proper, and the rest of them live out in the countryside that surrounds the city.
Now, in our operations we work closely with General Abboud Qanbar and the Iraqi Baghdad Operations Command. He commands a much larger force than I do. He has about 150,000 people in all, six complete Iraqi divisions. And for the Iraqis, about a third of them are in the army and another third in the various kinds of police, and the rest are the Sons of Iraq, which are the local version of Neighborhood Watch, and they're very important in this war. They're the former insurgents who reconciled to our side.
And as we look at that, since we assumed our duties, as Bryan mentioned, on the 10th of February this year, 2009, we've been operating under the security agreement between Iraq and the United States, and all of our combat operations are in partnership with the Iraqis. So when we do a raid or a patrol, we're combined, and the Iraqis will hold any of those we need to detain.
Targeted individuals when we do a raid have warrants that are issued by Iraqi judges in Iraqi courts. And both sides do do some independent tasks, like resupply their forces, some local-based protection patrols, things like that. But we always share our operations plans so we know what each other's up to. And we've been working that way since we got here.
And given the Iraqi numbers in and around Baghdad, they've always had a really big role. And as you know, that role got a lot bigger on June 30th. And on that day we formally turned over the lead for security in Baghdad to General Abboud and the Iraqi forces.
Now, in the city, we support General Abboud. But in the countryside around the city, we work in partnership with the Iraqis, and there we continue to search out and attack enemy supply points and hideouts.
As provided in Article 4 of that security agreement I mentioned earlier, Iraqi forces in the city have asked for some help at doing their job. They've asked for training, intelligence, route clearing, some supply and medical assistance, and we continue to provide that.
We also protect our forces while they're carrying out those tasks. And we help out and protect State Department teams as they go around working on civil capacity in the city.
Our numbers in the city are really a lot smaller than they used to be in the past. And we use a lot of means to make sure that we get the job done while reducing our visibility, so we're not an annoyance or a frustration to the Iraqi population. In the city of Baghdad, the Iraqis have the lead for security, and we support.
So with that, I look forward to answering your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, thank you for that overview. And we will start.
Go ahead. You've got the first one.
Q Hi, General. It's Laura Jakes with Associated Press.
Wondering if you can talk a little bit more about the numbers of forces you still have, in the city of Baghdad, if any of them are staying in the COPs or the JCCs or JSSs, or whatever situation you have there, forces who are actually living in the city as opposed to Victory or in the Green Zone, and how long you expect that to go on.
GEN. BOLGER: Well, that's a great question.
I will tell you, our numbers in the city vary a lot every day, depending on the particular mission. It's basically about 1 to 2 percent of the Iraqi numbers.
So they've got about 150,000. You can do the math on that. And it will vary up and down, depending on which particular task we're doing. And as you correctly noted, most of our facilities now are outside the city, in the bases and the joint security sites that surround the city.
Just to put it in perspective, at the height of the surge, in 2007, we had about 76 bases in the city and then a large number of even smaller patrol bases numbering up in the hundreds.
Right now, the number of U.S. facilities you'd find in the city would be in the tens, and I mean low tens. And I don't want to give a specific number, because obviously we don't want to disclose exactly where we're operating out of day-to-day, for a lot of reasons.
One of the particular challenges as we reduce our numbers is that force protection for us is something we got to take a look at, because every time we create a force-protection challenge for ourself, it puts us and Iraqis in the position of having to maybe move more forces into the city, and our goal is to move in the opposite direction, reduce those forces over time.
Q Do you expect those -- those outposts in the tens, as you describe, to be operational, standing up?
GEN. BOLGER: I think they're going to remain operational as long as we need them based on the mission. As you know, we're going to have a significant mission change next August that our president, our commander in chief's, given us, where the entire combat role will end, even outside the city, and we'll switch to an advise-and-support system throughout the country, and we'll do that assistance role. So I know by then they will.
And then it'll be a question of, where does it make sense to do that task? Is it best to do it at some outpost in the city? Is it somewhere we might want to use occasionally and then move out of? The biggest thing that will pace us there is sort of what do our Iraqi partners want and what's the smartest way to do that because, as you can imagine, it is also a frustration, not only to have U.S. soldiers even in small numbers living in your city if you're an Iraqi, it's also a challenge to have us either flying over you in helicopters or to drive in our armored trucks to get to and from the site. So sometimes commuting can also be a frustration for the folks.
So we want to come up with the right balance there. And I think we've got a good balance for what we have now. As our numbers reduce in accord with the president's directive going toward the December 2011 withdrawal, I think we're going to find that we'll -- we'll keep looking at our bases. And I can tell you, we and the Iraqis are looking right now at all of them. I think there'll probably be some more sites that we will close or reduce in size as we -- as we change our posture even over the next few months. What makes sense based on the situation here and what our partners need really is going to be the driver.
MR. WHITMAN: Greg?
Q Greg Jaffe, Washington Post. Have you changed your policy at all with regard to embedded reporters with U.S. Army units inside Baghdad, in terms of going out on patrols, as you try to keep the U.S. profile down?
GEN. BOLGER: No. In fact, the embedded reporters can accompany us on anything they're doing, within the limits of their, you know, personal needs and safety and stuff like that. We'll tell them where the risk is higher or lower but -- I mentioned that the forces that we do have in the city do do force protection missions, and they get resupply and they go out to partner with the Iraqis sometimes on training missions. Any embedded reporter would be welcome to do that. And again, the only exception I could potentially see is if we got into a really high-threat situation where, just for the safety of the reporter, you know, we might ask him just hang back a little bit while we sorted something out. But essentially, same thing as usual.
The only difference, obviously, with the numbers greatly reduced in the city, Greg, I think what we'd see is that there's probably just not that many opportunities to do stuff in the built-up part of Baghdad. Now if you want to go out with an American unit, it's probably better to go out in the countryside, only because there's more American units out there.
But -- (inaudible) -- you know, we're happy to get embeds and we're happy to let them look around and talk to our folks and see what the men and women are up to. And that includes, by the way, the Iraqis that are partnered with us. They of course have their own rules from the Ministry of Defense, and Interior, but usually they're fairly forthcoming. And especially at the small-unit level, they're usually willing to talk.
Q General, Leo Shane from Stars and Stripes. We're hearing a lot of reports of frustration among troops with some of the role changes. I wonder if you could speak to what you're hearing from your guys.
And also, what's the -- you spoke a little bit about the cooperation level. I think we saw an e-mail from you over the weekend that touched on the issues of what U.S. forces can and can't do in the city. What is the cooperation level? Are you getting pushback from the Iraqis?
GEN. BOLGER: Well, I think it's a great question that you ask. And it's really been a challenge for us. You know, you put 180,000 people inside a city of 6 million -- you know, obviously, we reduced our numbers significantly, but we're in and around there -- you're going to obviously get a lot of different interpretations of a 15-page document in English and Arabic, which, aside from some local arrangements we made in terms of orders and mission statements we've given our guys, that's what a lot of Iraqi people heard.
And that document has 30 articles and there's all kinds of things in it. I'm sure some attorneys somewhere could make sense of all of it. But what we've got is just folks out on the ground trying to make sense of it as they're carrying out their task.
In addition, and this was totally to be expected, a lot of the Iraqi public media trumpeted what was in Article 24 about leaving out of the cities. There's -- as I said, there's 30 articles in the agreement. They could have also talked about Article 4, that said that some Americans would be asked to stay to help out. For a lot of reasons, that just got lost. And again, 15-page, single-spaced type in English and Arabic, you could expect some confusion.
Most military operations I've been in I've got a degree of friction. And this one has had some for sure. I think each day that goes by we get a little bit better at working together. The great thing that we really had helping us is we've been under this system essentially since 1 January. So although there were some hiccups right at the beginning, some Iraqi guys saying hey, why are you Americans in the city; you know, we heard an announcement you were all leaving. What are you doing here?
Other cases, where Iraqis came to us and said hey, we need you to do this combat operation, we had to tell them hey, no, you know, we're in a supporting role now. If you lead, we can help you with these things and not those things.
And it took a while. And it's been my experience whenever you're turning a big operation like MND Baghdad or the Baghdad ops command on the Iraqi side, there's always going to be some frictions and hiccups.
One thing I would like to point out, though, is that -- and this has pretty well been seen -- there's not been a lot of confrontation or pushing or shoving or any silly stuff in Baghdad. There's certainly been some scenes where an American or an Iraqi commander, you know, have to come out of their vehicles and walk up and figure out what's going on and all that. But you know, heck, we had that at earlier parts of the war as well, and a lot of that's a function of not speaking the same language and all that.
The one great thing I can state is, from General Abboud Qanbar all the way down to our Iraqi privates and our privates, they definitely know that partnership's the name of the game, especially in the city.
And again as I mentioned, if you just sort of do the math, I mean, we have such a small percentage of the uniformed people in the city right now. We have to partner and sort of work with the Iraqis as we do stuff.
So I think in a lot of ways, it's actually built on what we've done up until now. It's built on years of work. And despite those initial frustrations, I think, it seems to be going pretty well.
The other thing I'd point out, which is equally important, is that the security situation in Baghdad also remains pretty stable. Some people were worried that if we pulled our major combat forces out, we might have a big upspike in violence.
Well, there are certainly bad guys out there. And there have been some unfortunate incidents. There has been nothing like a sustained violent impact by al Qaeda or any of the other militant groups we fight against. And that really reflects the fact that I think the Iraqis were pretty much ready for this move. And they've grabbed the ball.
I'd point to the religious march that they had, that was centered in Baghdad, on the Kadhimiya shrine, recognizing the seventh imam. And that just happened over the last few days.
The Iraqi security forces handled that almost completely on their own -- we gave them just the most minor support you could imagine -- and did a great job, generally kept the city safe, got all the pilgrims in and out. And that worked pretty well.
So I think that's the way of the future, especially in the city, us supporting, them taking the lead. And then next August, that will be that way all over the country.
Q Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.
You mentioned that the security situation is relatively stable. Can you sort of -- can you quantify that in any way, give us an idea of how many attacks you're seeing now, versus when you first arrived, how many offensive -- how many kind of operations the U.S. soldiers are supporting, versus logistical support?
GEN. BOLGER: Sure, yeah. Basically what I would tell you, let's first talk about enemy activity or whatever.
When we got here, the enemy was averaging in Baghdad about four attacks a day. That number stayed pretty stable. Some days, it's up a little. Some days, it's down. There actually was sort of a drop, after the 30th of June, where it ran about two or three attacks a day. And it's picked up a little bit lately.
The bad guys we fight, especially al Qaeda, you know, they're a combat-type organization. So they have to go through a planning and preparation cycle. And I don't know exactly what's going through their heads. But I know they had to adjust after 30 June too and try and figure out what was going on.
Now, you all know, from following this, that we certainly had an upswing, which we expected, right before the 30th. Some of these groups wanted to get credit for, quote, "driving the Americans out of the city," which was kind of strange, since we told them we were leaving and didn't make any secret of that.
So there was an increase in violence, a little bit of a trough, and now we're settling back to about four or five attacks a day. Now, obviously, we want to drive that down even further, and we're working to do that.
As far as friendly operations, we've really done a little bit of a shift there, and we started that in June. As I mentioned, more American combat forces are out in the countryside, and the bad guys, that's where they hide all their weapons and their ammunition, and that's where they go to plan their attacks and stuff. So now you’ve got more of us out there looking around with the Iraqi forces that are out there. That's started putting some pressure on them in June, that I think we've seen, their planning cycle wasn't as good; that's why the first half of July here has been a little quieter. And I think if we can keep that pressure up, we can drive the numbers down even further.
As far as U.S. patrols and things like that, obviously in the city a lot less, since there's a lot less forces. You know, automatically if there's less of us there's less patrols and operations. But because we didn't decrease the overall number of soldiers or sailors, airmen and Marines in MND Baghdad, it's more like we're in the outer ring of the doughnut working and we leave the Iraqis in the inner ring with those advisers and assisters. And so that's the way it would look.
So I think if you looked at our numbers, you'd see -- and I know this -- you'd see a little bit more activity, particularly in June, especially out in the countryside, trying to drop the hammer on their hideouts and their supply sites, and then now more steady-state operations, Iraqis in the lead in the city and us partnered out in the countryside to go after those networks and hideouts.
Q General, it's Laura Jakes from AP again. Can you talk about your relationship with the SOI? I remember in April or sometime this spring there was some friction between U.S. forces and ISF and SOI. There was one -- as I recall, your soldiers went into a home in Fadil (sp) on a raid, and there were some concerns, as I recall, about some SOI going back into the insurgency or becoming bad guys again because of some of the raids. Can you talk a little bit about what the status of that relationship is now?
GEN. BOLGER: Yeah, I sure will. I hope you heard, when I gave the discussion of our Iraqi partner forces, the SOI, the Sons of Iraq, the reconciled insurgents who've come over to support the government and work with us, they account for about a third of the fighting strength of the Iraqi forces that protect the people of Baghdad.
And we see them as intimate parts of our team. And that's not just me talking. General Abboud Qanbar, who is my Iraqi counterpart, he refers to them truly as his sons -- not just sons of Iraq, but as his sons. He says, "I treat them just like my own soldiers and police," and he's been doing that.
What you referred to was some hiccups that occurred in terms of getting them paid and getting them onto the Iraqi payroll. You know, the United States paid the bill for those folks up until last October. The Iraqi government took it over, and the government of Iraq's fiscal year runs in accord with the calendar year. You know, the U.S. one starts on 1 October; theirs starts on 1 January. And they had planned this fiscal year when oil prices were running at about $150 a barrel and, as you know, those prices are not there any more.
So not just the Sons of Iraq program, but every program the Iraq government sponsored -- to include their defense programs, police, agriculture -- all had to do some serious belt-tightening. As a result, there was a little bit of bureaucratic confusion about getting the Sons of Iraq paid.
In addition, the other thing you've got to remember about the Sons of Iraq, they're reconciled insurgents, but some of them are basically professional criminals and terrorists and they started to slide back to their old ways. The guy that you're referring to that, when we went in at the end of March, into the Fadel neighborhood in east Baghdad, was Adel Mashhadani. And Adel Mashhadani had basically taken over Fadel, almost like a member of an organized crime syndicate. And he was taxing the people for his gains. He had grabbed a clinic that we had built, and turned it into a sort of a headquarters. He was doing some pretty awful things to people, in terms of -- in terms of, you know, injuries and deaths and things like that, hit-squad type activity. So there were new warrants sworn out against him. The Iraq government went in and got him with their emergency response brigade, with our special ops guys helping out. And then we helped clean that mess up.
It's worth noting that in that particular engagement -- although, unfortunately, there were some people killed; about 12 of the former SOIs -- the vast bulk of the Sons of Iraq in that area came right out, got on the government's side, said they wanted nothing to do with this Mashhadani guy. And that's been the pattern, by and large.
But I think the one warning you've got to -- we've got to realize is that any Son of Iraq, by definition, is a former insurgent. And just given human nature, if you've got about 40 (thousand) to 50,000 of them, there's going to be a couple of them that are going to drift back the other way. And we have seen some of that.
The government of Iraq, though, is committed to paying them. And I'm happy to report also they're committed to a job placement program that we're actually getting ready to pilot. In fact, I'm going to a meeting on Thursday with General Abboud and with the civilian officials from the Iraqi government where we're going to start sketching out how exactly that's going to start.
And I expect that'll pick up here within the next month or so.
As you know, the prime minister of Iraq, who's coming to D.C. this week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has been very committed to this reconciliation effort. He's met with the Sons of Iraq, and he's committed to getting this thing right, because clearly that's the way we want to solve this. We want these folks to be part of the new Iraq and not to drift back into the insurgency. So we watch it closely -- not only us, but so do our Iraqi counterparts.
Q As you look at the units that are going to replace you in Baghdad, have you determined what the mix of those units need to look like? Do they need to be heavier in terms of field-grade officers and NCOs to do more partnering work? Or do they need to look more like a regular brigade?
GEN. BOLGER: Absolutely. Great question. In fact, I'll tell you, if you look at the recent announcement from the Department of Defense of the forces coming in behind us, you'll see that several of the Army units are designated as advisory and assist brigades, and they'll have exactly what you describe. They'll have additional officers and NCOs specifically focused on the partnership role that you've described.
And remember, by the time you get to next August, only about a year from now, all the U.S. forces that are in Iraq are going to probably be in that mode. And so, again, this is the way of the future. As units come in to backfill us, among those that have been reported, they're going to be in that organization.
And I will tell you, we're not waiting till then to make that shift. Our forces in the city are already in that advise-and-assist role. And we're learning some ways to do it and some stuff we need to do, how you organize, how you get around, how you work with your partner. And so we're sharing that right now.
In fact, we've got a team with some of the units coming in to replace us that's right now in Germany working with them, and we'll send some other guys back to the States to share those practices. And then obviously we use formats just like this -- videoteleconference and all that -- to make sure that we keep them as up-to-date as possible on that stuff. But yeah, you're right on target. There's going to be an adjustment in what we bring in.
The one thing that I would mention, though -- and this was in a Department of Defense announcement, and I'll make sure we understand that -- is that any U.S. forces that come here will have the capability to protect themselves. So it's not as if we're saying, "Hey, just because we're coming in an advise-and-assist role we're coming in unarmed" or anything like that. We wouldn't do that. The Iraqis don't expect or want us to do that.
And the security agreement in Article IV gives us the full authority to defend ourselves. You got to have that, because, unfortunately, even with great Iraqi partners, sometimes stuff can -- happens where you got to be ready to protect yourself. And there's still a dangerous enemy out here. So we'll come in ready, but much more focused on the advise-and-assist as the new forces come in. Great question.
Q (Off mike) -- worry at all about the strain on the Army? Just -- there aren't a lot of field-grade officers and NCOs out there and that while you reduce the strain on the junior enlisted, that you kind of keep the op tempo fairly high for these majors, lieutenant colonels, things like that?
GEN. BOLGER: Well, I think that's a legitimate concern. I mean, and I'd say that is -- you know, (inaudible) many people here on a second tour, many are on their third, even some on their fourth. And that is definitely a challenge for an army with our strength. I know you've seen some of the thoughts and recommendations about possibly expanding the size of the Army this year to give us some more space to take care of things like that.
But the point you make is a good one. You can't grow a major or sergeant first class overnight; we've got what we've got. And so we've just got to look at what's the smartest way to do that.
I would say that we're right now, in this part in Iraq, in a very critical phase that we want to consolidate the hard work and the sacrifices that have been made by folks on the coalition side and folks on the Iraqi side. So we're probably going to have to ask some more sacrifice over the next year or so, until we get over this period.
But just the fact that we'll reduce down by next summer to a residual force of about 50,000 or so will remove some of that pressure. And of course we've got to realize we haven't yet seen the full requirements that have come out of the Afghan campaign, although we're starting to get a picture what may look like. And certainly, for a lot of us that aren’t coming back here, we might have to go over there and continue the mission there.
But you're exactly right to look at that, and I think the Army as a whole is taking a really hard look at strains on the force and doing what they can to reduce them.
For the near term, though, at least for us and for the next year or so, I think you're right; I think our NCOs and our field-grade officers are definitely going to have to at least do one more iteration here before we get out of that high operational tempo period. And I think that's just going to the way it is. We’ve just got to be smart in the Army as to how we take care of them and their families and set ourselves up for the long term.
MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.)
Q General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News. When you talk about the residual force next August, how do you characterize how they'll be arrayed inside Iraq? I mean, would most of them be inside Baghdad? Will -- because of the logistics, because that's where the operations are? Or will they be spread out all across the country? Can you characterize where we're going to see most of these forces?
GEN. BOLGER: Yeah. Great question. It's actually a good question for General Odierno and for General Petraeus, because right now they're looking at a variety of options.
You know, the great thing about military guys, we can crank out a lot of plans. So as you probably have, I've seen all kinds of options proposed, ranging from spread out in the countryside, sort of doing training out at ranges and facilities; just outside the cities, to assist with counterinsurgency-type training or tasks; moved out to the borders, to help with more conventional missions in terms of a national army prepared to defend against a potential invasion from some unfriendly country -- seen all those different versions.
About the only thing I know right now is that those decisions are going to be pretty important ones that are going to be made over the next few months, and I think they're going to consider exactly the kind of range of options that we've just been talking about here.
I wouldn't be surprised if one size does not fit all. Iraq's been a country where different parts of the country have had different things going on ever since we've been dealing with the folks over here. So you may see a combination of those methods.
The one thing I can assure you is, we're definitely going to look at all those options and, working with the Iraqis, try to pick the one that best suits the mission as it evolves next summer.
MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.)
Q General, Stars and Stripes again.
I wonder if you could speak a little more about -- you spoke about the shift in role, with more folks on the countryside and some not friendly. Is that resulting in fewer -- I don't want to say fewer responsibilities but fewer missions maybe, shorter missions for guys outside the bases, outside the wire?
Are you seeing guys who essentially have less to do now, with the shift in role?
GEN. BOLGER: Actually I spend about five or six days a week out with our small units on operations. And I can tell you, to me, I can't tell the difference. And we're in a different environment—we're not pounding the streets of Baghdad—but we still seem to be out about the same amount of hours, doing the same kind of tasks. The nature of the countryside by definition is, it's farther between the people.
So when you're protecting the population, you've got to go village to village. And you're looking around in canal beds and out in farm fields for stuff. You've just got to be out there poking around. And we're doing that.
So I think the tempo of operations has changed especially in that, you know, countryside is a little more active, city obviously more of a supporting role. But I would think overall people would be doing about the same.
And one really positive thing, I think, that we should all keep in mind is, compared to maybe my last rotation or certainly the last rotation 1st Cavalry Division was in, during the surge, the enemy- activity pattern is very low, partially because they're no longer in the fight of they've been attrited out or whatever the case may be.
The great thing is, a lot of them have come over to us, as Sons of Iraq, and they're not fighting us anymore. But the bottom line is, the more of them that are removed, from the battlefield, the less stuff we have to do. And more of our missions turn out to be operations to just look for things, versus finding things and fighting them.
And frankly for us, we're happy to keep looking. And you know, if we have to fight them, we will. But looking always beats a fight, whenever you can have a choice.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, we have just about reached the end of our time here. And I wanted to give you one last opportunity, before we bring this to a close, in case you had any final thoughts that you'd like to share with us.
GEN. BOLGER: Well, Bryan, thanks. And really, thanks to all of you for this great opportunity to talk about our combined operations and partnership in Baghdad.
You know, things really have improved a lot over the last year. But you know, we've got to remember there's still an enemy out there, and we see him active every now and then. So we have to stay ready.
And you know, even as we're talking right here, our troopers are out on patrol outside the city, and they're helping the Iraqis inside the city. We're going to keep doing that. That's really what our job is going to be over the next period we're here. And I think we're going to stay partnered and stay at it as long as we're here. Thanks.
MR. WHITMAN: General Bolger, thank you for your time. And we hope that in a couple of months we can do this again with you.
GEN. BOLGER: Okay. I look forward to it. Thank you.
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