DoD News Briefing with Col. Green From Iraq
(Note: Colonel Green appears via teleconference from Iraq.)
COL. DAVID LAPAN (Deputy director of Public Affairs, USMC): For those here at the Pentagon briefing room, we're privileged to have with us today, Colonel Tobin Green. He is the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Colonel Green assumed his current duties in Iraq in April. This is his first briefing to us in this format, and he's coming to us today from Camp Liberty in Iraq. As he mentioned, he has a few comments, and then we'll open it up to questions.
Colonel Green, thank you again for being with us today, and -- (audio break).
COL. GREEN: Thanks very much, Dave. I appreciate this opportunity. Can you hear me okay, before I begin?
COL. LAPAN: We've got you loud and clear, thanks.
COL. GREEN: Thanks.
Hey, good morning, everyone. Again, my name is Colonel Toby Green, and I'm actually coming to you from our home base here at JSS War Eagle, which is in the east side of Iraq, on the Rusafa side.
I do command the 1st Brigade of the 1st Calvary Division. Our home station is back at Fort Hood, Texas, but presently we are serving as part of Multinational Division-Baghdad.
We call ourselves the Iron Horse Brigade, and in sum we consist of just under 4,000 troopers. We affectionately call them Calvary troopers.
We arrived in this theater actually in the February time frame and assumed transfer of authority over the northeast portion of Baghdad province on 21 March 2009. Our initial operating environment is depicted on a slide to my right. I'm going to ask the camera to pan over there. Our initial operating environment included the districts of Adhamiya, Sadr City and the rural qadha of Istiqlal. These are all located on the east side of the Tigris River.
And later during our rotation, we expanded to the south to include an area in the Rusafa district, and we also assumed responsibility for the Taji and Tarmiya qadhas north of the city on the west side of the Tigris River.
Our current mission: Our current mission is to provide support to our Iraqi security forces partners inside the city of Baghdad and to conduct combined counterinsurgency operations with the ISF to disrupt and to defeat the enemy outside of the city.
Now, the Iraqi security forces that we are partnered with, they include seven Iraqi army brigades, as well as two divisional headquarters, one Iraqi federal police brigade, thousands of Iraqi police, and 7,000 Sons of Iraq. Essentially, those are the reconciled, often former insurgents who now assist us with providing security and protecting the population, and who are employed by the government of Iraq and take their instructions from the Iraqi security forces in their respective areas.
Next, I'd like to share some information with you regarding the lines of effort that serve as the construct for our campaign plan in Iraq before entertaining your questions.
I want to begin with security and partnership. Security is still the first order of business for the units in this brigade, as well as our Iraqi partners in uniform. Overall, I think we've been making steady progress in this area.
It's been just over three months since the Iraqi security forces assumed control -- they assumed control of and also responsibility for the security situation inside the city.
And that's happened as U.S. units have been either remissioned or transitioned, combat forces, from the cities to the rural support zones that surround the cities. And this has been done in accordance with the next phase of the security agreement.
You know, so how are we doing? At this point, overall attack numbers, and those include IEDs and the dangerous explosively formed projectiles or EFPs, those attack numbers remain pretty low and are actually at lower levels than those we experienced, in the springtime, leading up to the transition point on 30 June. In terms of attack lethality, casualties among U.S. forces have taken a significant downturn.
Now, we did see an increase in Iraqi security force casualties in the July time frame. And I think most of you are aware what the civilian casualties associated with the 19 August VBIED attack on the foreign ministry and the ministry of finance.
But casualty figures have steadily declined since that time, and I'm encouraged by initial returns. I'm also mindful of still lethal and capable enemy cells and networks that seek to inflict harm on security forces and innocent Iraqis every day.
We've found that the Iraqi security forces with whom we partner, especially the federal police and the Iraqi army, continue to stand up to extremist and insurgent groups like al Qaeda. And the Iraqi citizens continue to reject attempts by these groups to incite sectarian violence.
That doesn't mean that I'm not concerned about al Qaeda and other threat-group efforts to conduct attacks and sow violence within Baghdad and it surrounding areas.
Enemy capability has been significantly degraded over time but it's not been eliminated, which is why units from this brigade will continue to support Iraqi forces, as they target sources of instability and secure their people.
Inside the city of Baghdad, our forces primarily support the ISF with advanced training, with specific enabling capabilities -- such as aviation, UAVs, intelligence support, military working dogs, and I could go on.
We also conduct combined operations with our partners upon their request. That's consistent with the spirit and the letter of the security agreement.
Outside the city, we work in combination with ISF partners to eliminate enemy safe havens, interdict insurgent lines of communication, target terrorists in their bed-down locations and disrupt the flow of accelerants in these rural areas in order to assist the Iraqis in securing Baghdad's populated neighborhoods.
With the changes in our mission that took place on 30 June, the Iron Horse Brigade has been able to move units out of Baghdad and increase the number of forces available to partner with the ISF outside the city. These unit relocations have enabled operational successes against the enemy in their support zones, while strengthening relationships with Iraqi units in these more rural areas as well.
Moving on to civil capacity, in the post-30-June environment, we have been able to expand on an already-robust civil-capacity effort across the brigade by placing even more of our emphasis and our resources on stability operations. The improved security situation, gained from months and years past, means that the brigade combat team and its embedded provincial reconstruction teams can give increased weight to expanding the capability of Iraqi local government and to improving the quality of life for Iraqi people with greater access to essential services and employment.
Thus far, the brigade has completed -- and in some cases, that means what we've done is we've completed the work begun by our predecessors -- but we've completed 101 projects valued at about $25 million. We currently have another 63 projects under way at an estimated cost of $8.6 million. And there are 58 projects that are in the developmental phase right now.
There are a couple of points behind the numbers that I want to highlight for you. The first is that, when you consider the differences between completed and ongoing projects, both in numbers and in cost, you can tell that the BCT is deliberately moving toward less expensive projects that require a shorter time frame to complete.
And we think that this adjustment makes sense, as we shift the preponderance of our forces to areas outside the city, but without disengaging from our civil-capacity activities inside Baghdad.
The second point is that I believe we've been able to generate and sustain our momentum in helping the Iraqis build civil capacity because of how we have organized ourselves for this challenge. We can discuss these initiatives more later if you like, but the take-away here is that we've established a structure that closely tied our embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams directly to the brigade, fusing these organizations into one; thereby ensuring better synchronization and unity of effort.
Similarly, we have changed how the brigade interacts with Iraqis on projects, by creating what we call projects or programs working groups. These groups exist within each district and qadha, and they essentially make progress on any project contingent upon more effective governance on behalf of the people. And we're pretty enthused by the results to date.
Now, with those opening remarks complete, I'd like to entertain any of your questions. Who'd like to begin?
COL. LAPAN: Courtney.
Q Thank you. I'd like to begin. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.
Colonel, you said that the overall attacks are pretty low. Can you quantify those for us, how many you were seeing back in March when you first moved into the area; how many you're seeing now?
And then, can you talk a little bit about who's behind the attacks in your area and who's the target? I assume it's -- it sounds as if it's Iraqi security forces, but just give us a better sense of what you're seeing in security incidents.
COL. GREEN: Courtney, I can. And if you could bear with me, I want to refer to some statistics to help me get the exact numbers. But if I understand you correctly, you really want some more specific details on the numbers of attacks that we've seen that show this decline, and then who I think might be behind those attacks.
So I'm looking at a chart right now that shows the number of attacks that we've experienced by type. And I'll hold it up in front of me, you know, just in case you're able to see it, and I'm not sure you are.
But essentially, this chart, in red and blue, describes from the March time frame through the September time frame the number of attacks that we've received, with red essentially being IED attacks and the blue representing the EFP.
And you can see that, after our TOA, we did have a slight increase leading up to the 30 June time frame. And since that period, attacks have actually declined.
Now, this number shows higher in September, but I would just caution you and say that on the 31st of August, the terrain that we're responsible for, our battlespace, essentially doubled. So attacks really are down overall. And then again, if you look at lethality -- and lethality is depicted on the lower charts down here -- you can see that numbers did spike in the June and July time frames, June leading up to the security agreement, July just after. I think this was a high of 122 casualties involving Iraqi security forces. But those numbers have dropped substantially since. And coalition forces are down here at the bottom. They remain real low.
In terms of overall numbers of attacks, I think in the September time frame between our two areas, on the east side and the west side of the river, we had about 50 attacks overall. I want to caution you and tell you that we include every found IED, every found cache, as an attack, because we record those events based upon the enemy's intent. The actual successful lethal attacks are quite less than that.
Now, those are numbers, but who's behind the attacks? We have seen a drop-off in the targeting by Shi'a extremist groups following the 30 June accord. They still occur, but they occur in less frequent numbers than we saw in the spring time frame. On the other hand, we've seen some additional targeting that we attribute to al Qaeda or other types of insurgent or resistant groups.
And, you know, we think that we have -- are working pretty effectively with Iraqi security forces to counter them. But I think the preponderance of the attacks in our AO are probably tied to al Qaeda or associated types of insurgent groups. And we do have some violent extremists, as well, that are still attacking us, but smaller in numbers.
So I hope I was able to answer your question.
Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. Can you assess for us the capabilities of the Iraqi forces in your AOR, especially looking forward to the expected sharp decrease in U.S. forces throughout the country next year?
COL. GREEN: Yes, sir, I can, and thanks very much.
You know, I do have the benefit, the historical benefit -- I think this is my third tour in Iraq, so -- I happen to have been here in 2003, as the battalion commander. I was here in the period from late 2006 to early 2008, as the G-3 for the 1st Cavalry Division. That was kind of during the surge time frame. And then now I'm back here with the 1st Team as part of this rotation.
And the growth of Iraqi security forces during that time frame has truly been remarkable. They've grown in size. They've grown in capability, leadership. Their equipment fielding is coming along quite well. So they've got better equipment skills. And of course all that has led to more effective partnering in combined operations as well.
So the change is noticeable. The fact that Iraqi security forces are indeed in charge inside the city and fully partnered outside the city -- those are not buzzwords; that change is real, and it's impressive.
And I'm also very pleased with how my soldiers, experienced soldiers, many of them two, three, four times over here, see that -- witness that change and then are able to make the adjustment from leading, as we've done in the past, to supporting or enabling Iraqi success, which is really what we're all about right now.
So thanks very much.
Q If I could just follow up briefly, over the years various officials and officers have used the word "fragile" to describe progress in Iraq. Do you think it's still fragile? Or how fragile is it? Or if not, what words would you use?
COL. GREEN: Yes, sir. I am familiar with that term. And you know, it is combat, so it's difficult when, you know, events like the 19th of August happen. And you know, you receive some intelligence indicators, and you're tracking it, and you -- and then, you know, something like that happens, and I think it certainly took the Iraqi security forces by surprise.
And so you'd look at an event like that, and you'd say: Okay, the enemy is still capable of conducting spectacular attacks and inflicting large amounts of casualties. And I think that remains the case.
However, I do believe that the Iraqi security forces grow stronger each and every day. I see the growth in governance and civil capacity, which is coming along. I think it's got some ways to go. I'm very encouraged by the progress, and I think that, you know, very critical for us right now is to have, you know, elections that go off successfully here in the coming months and then witness the seating of a new government.
And that transition, I think, will be really critical in cementing the gains that we've experienced thus far.
So, yeah -- know, I'm encouraged by our progress, and then, as a soldier, I know that that progress can turn, you know, rapidly if we're not on our game. And -- and we're working hard on that right now. But what I see every week out there is forward momentum right now.
Q Thank you.
COL. LAPAN: Luis?
Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. You spoke earlier about the training and enabling that your forces conduct inside the city perimeter, but you also spoke about combined ops. Can you talk about how often they occur, what actually occurred after the June 30th handover -- was it that minimal, if even existent? And what do you actually do when you conduct those kinds of operations?
COL. GREEN: Yes, sir, I can, and thanks very much.
You're right; I talked about all those three things. I talked about training, enabling and combined operations, and we're doing all those things. After the 1 July time frame, when Iraqis took charge inside the city, we probably went through a week or 10 days of just seeing that adjustment take place. And I know there were a number of news stories that talked about, you know, constraints on access and, you know, being stuck on FOBs.
The truth of the matter is that that was not my experience. I move a lot in the battle space really almost every single day. I've never not been able to move freely across the battle space. I've probably had a handful of circumstances where Iraqi security forces have stopped me at a checkpoint; very professionally, you know, asked me kind of what my task and purpose was; I've shared that with them; and then in -- I think in one or two cases they made a phone call, and then thanked me very much for their cooperation, and I was on my way. When possible, I like to travel and operate with my Iraqi counterparts. Sometimes the missions that I'm doing, you know, don't -- don't allow for that to happen.
We also try to work smart in the post-30-June time frame with our Iraqi partners to make sure that we can capitalize on the trust that we enjoy through transparency.
I'll give you just one example. In this brigade combat team, we like to look about 48 to 72 hours out and capture all of the known missions and operations that will -- that we need to do, that -- that wouldn't be occurring with our Iraqi partners.
Let's say, for example, that's a re-supply convoy that's bringing food and water from outside the city, you know, to some soldiers who still live on the inside. Those types of operations we provide advance notice of. We have what's called a movement control tracker. So, you know, we translate that, share that with our Iraqi partners, and they -- they appreciate that very much because it gives them full visibility on what we're doing.
And then we also have combined command post locations at the division level, at every Iraqi security force brigade. So, you know, that allows us to have close cooperation on all of our activities, as well.
And I just -- I just haven't experienced those kinds of challenges, at least in our battle space. It is true that in the post 1 July time frame, the kinds of assistance that the Iraqis have asked of us -- you know; it's changed a little bit. We are doing a lot more training with the Iraqi security forces.
So I have some units who -- who focus exclusively on doing the training that they desire, that they need, that comes from, you know, consensus as we, you know, make assessments of where we're going, the operations that lie on the horizon, the readiness levels of the organizations and what they might -- might need.
We have about a half a dozen of these training academies. You really find them in every district or qada. Almost in every Iraqi brigade location, we've got a training academy there. The Iraqis have a great say in defining, you know, what the classes or the POI are that we'll cover there. And then, you know, we've run a number of iterations of classes. And as we do them, we've migrated from coalition cadres to Iraqis who lead that instruction.
So it is training that's supported by U.S. forces. We certainly play a big role in helping to put those academies and POI together, but every day it's migrating more towards an Iraqi effort where we're clearly in the background.
In terms of enabling, it's also something that they -- they really desire from us. We do have capabilities that don't yet exist in the Iraqi formation. I talked about aviation, right? We've got a lot of helicopters. The Iraqis have a nascent air force, which includes helicopters. I see them flying every day. But they don't have the numbers and haven't developed the tactical expertise where they can supplant what we bring to the table.
I could have talked about indirect fire; same thing. The Iraqis are fielding mortar batteries right now. We're involved with that. But the indirect fire for illumination or terrain-denial fires, that really comes from the coalition right now.
So there's a number of capabilities that include metal detectors, that includes intelligence fusion. It includes, you know, some cross- work with interrogations, exploitation of evidence, all those kinds of things. We have those available, and when the Iraqis ask for them we try to make sure they can get them.
I'd actually like the camera to pan over to my right quickly, and I'd like to explain that in a little more detail. What you're looking at on this chart is something called a super MTT. And what it represents is just a way of reorganizing our effort inside the city in the 1 July time frame to be more responsive to Iraqi needs.
And so, you know, here is a generic U.S. combined arms battalion. And you can see that what we've done is we have organized around an Iraqi brigade a new type of task organization that's focused on supporting them. In this case, we've taken a military transition team, which have always been there, that 10-to-15-man force that provides them advice and assistance on a daily basis, and we've coupled that with a coalition force or a U.S. company from that battalion whose focus is to provide them with a -- you know, a training force to conduct those classes. It also provides a QRF, or a response force that can go out with the Iraqis when they need it, a mission force if they ask for it and that can provide the force protection for that MTT team.
But look what we've given it: We've given it a whole host of additional capabilities that are usually not found at the company level -- explosive ordnance detachments, psychological operations, law-enforcement professionals, a company intelligence support team, civil-affairs teams, human intelligence, a multifunctional team and even direct support provided by a representative of the embedded provincial reconstruction team who goes all the way down to that unit to assist with civil-capacity projects.
These are enablers that normally would exist at the battalion, brigade, or even the division level, but we've reorganized and pushed them down to this element that supports an Iraqi brigade. And so it gives them capabilities at their discretion that they can ask for quickly and we can support them with.
So that really explains the enabling piece.
(To staff.) And you can scan back to me, please.
And now for combined operations, we probably do more combined operations during the periods of limited visibility than we did in the past, and less during daylight hours inside the city; haven't really seen any changes at all in the rural support zones. And then, we do the kinds of operations that they request from us. It might be a disruption operation. It might be support for a cordon and search, where we provide outer-cordon security and they do the searching. It might be assistance with precision, intelligence-driven operations.
But again, what you see is the Iraqis are the action arm and we assist with condition setting and with, you know, response forces, as they're required. That's kind of colored our operations inside the city since the 1 July time frame.
And I hope that helps answer your question, sir.
Q Hi. It's Gordon Lubold, from the Christian Science Monitor.
Sir, if you could talk a little bit briefly about your use of drones, to the extent that you're using them; and I just wondered how you're using them. Are they all for kind of the traditional intelligence gathering? Or are you using them for other purposes, as well?
COL. GREEN: I use them for intelligence gathering. And the Iraqis, when they request those enablers, unmanned aerial vehicles, they use them for intelligence gathering, as well.
You know, there are a small number of cases where I might use some of these unmanned aerial vehicles for a deterrence purpose. Let's say, for example, it's someplace where, because of the size of the forces, we might not have someone there, so I'm specifically going to use that capability, and make it visible or -- and allow it to fly low enough so that it can be heard, to serve as a deterrent.
But really, we use them for intelligence collection. And that's what the Iraqis ask from us, and we provide when we can. Thank you.
Q When you say intelligence gathering, is it always kind of gathering intelligence about the enemy? Or are there opportunities where you use it to just kind of collect data on your AOR, like other things not necessarily enemy-related?
COL. GREEN: Yeah, I mean -- I'm not exactly sure where you're going. But we use it to collect information. So for example, you know, we'll often use them to look at a named area of interest because we're looking for enemy activity.
But it's also the case that we might use them, after there has been an attack, to look at the area itself, to help with first responders, in defining what assistance might be required.
If there's, you know, a large gathering somewhere, we might take a look at that, to see if that's a demonstration or something that's more innocuous. If we're doing an operation that involved the convergence or the coordination of a number of forces, we could use an unmanned aerial vehicle to help give us information about ourselves, to make sure that we're properly arrayed.
So we do use it to collect information on ourselves, information on the enemy and sometimes information about the environment, to assist us in doing operations. Over.
Q Sir, it's Mike Mount with CNN.
You had made a brief reference about Iranian influence in your sector. How much are you seeing of fighters that may have gone into Iran, for training or -- and then come back in and set up in your sector? And how serious is the Iranian influence in your sector, compared to other parts in Baghdad?
COL. GREEN: Thanks, Mike.
We do see Iranian influence. We also see some influence of foreign fighters or insurgents, who have moved back and forth from other countries. I mean, I've seen some that have migrated in from Syria for example.
Many of our most important targets are individuals who have had some migration or spent some time outside of the country with one of these external actors.
We actually had a detention yesterday that involved a high-value target that had spent some time in Iran, in the not-too-distant past. So that does occur. Remember that my area of operations includes places like Sadr City.
So I don't think it's uncommon that we would have, you know, external influence, the migration of some weapons or materials that have their origin from abroad. You know, we have seen that. But we track it pretty effectively and we track it in conjunction with Iraqi forces.
They assist us as well in that effort. And then as those individuals appear, as those networks become activated, we action them when we have -- when we have the conditions set to do so. Over.
COL. LAPAN: All right, Colonel Green, it looks like we're good on this end. I'll kick it back to you, for any closing remarks you'd like to make.
COL. GREEN: Dave, thanks very much. And I did appreciate this opportunity to spend a little bit of time with you today. I want to say thanks for that. It's given us an opportunity to tell a little bit of the story of our brigade and, really, the Iraqi partners that we support every day.
I want to say something quickly to our rear-detachment cadre back at Fort Hood, to our family-readiness groups back there, loved ones back home, as well as our friends from the communities that surround Fort Hood, we really do appreciate their unconditional support.
Fort Hood is known in the Army as the great place, and those back home have really earned that moniker with their actions every day. We certainly appreciate it.
Another special message to those members of the Iron Horse family from this brigade who have been injured and returned home to heal, as well as the families of troopers who have lost their lives during this deployment, those individuals never leave our thoughts and prayers, and we really do eagerly await our reunion with them in the future, the not-too-distant future.
And then, finally, the troopers in this organization, I think, are doing an incredible job working in Iraq with Iraqis every single day. You know, they come from all over our nation, and they live their oath to soldier and to serve. I'm really humbled by their professionalism, their courage, their sacrifices, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with them.
So thanks very much. Appreciate your support and the opportunity to talk with you today.
That's all I have, Dave.
COL. LAPAN: Colonel Green, best of luck.
COL. GREEN: Thanks. You all take care.
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