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DoD News Briefing with Brig. Gen Brown From Iraq

Presenter: Deputy Commanding General (Support) 25th Infantry Division Multinational Division-North Brig. Gen. Robert Brown
October 20, 2009

                (Note:  General Brown appears via teleconference from Iraq.)   

 

                MODERATOR:  Good morning, all.  We're privileged to have with us today Brigadier General Robert Brown.  General Brown is the deputy commanding general (Support) for Multinational Division-North.   

 

                General Brown assumed his current duties in Iraq in November 2008.  This is his first brief to us in this format.  He joins us today from Mosul in Iraq.  General Brown has a few comments and then he'll take your questions.   

 

                General, thanks again for joining us.  Over to you, sir.   

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Thanks, Dave.   

 

                Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.  It's a pleasure to be here with you.  I'm Brigadier General Bob Brown, the deputy commanding general for Multinational Division-North and the 25th Infantry Division here in Iraq.  And I'm speaking to you today from Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul.   

 

                MND-North is comprised of approximately 23,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.  And for those of you who are not familiar with MND-North's area of responsibility, it's comprised of the seven northernmost provinces of Iraq.  And that includes the Kurdish region, all the provinces north of Baghdad.   

 

                The area itself is an extremely diverse region, both in geographic makeup and the population who inhabit it.  There are Kurds and Arabs, both Sunni and Shi'a, as well as ethnic minorities such as Christians, Yazidis among others.  And all of them have played a part in our mission here, over the last 12 months.   

 

                This is actually my second time in Mosul.  I was here before in 2004-2005 as the Stryker Brigade commander with the 25th Infantry Division.  And I can tell you that MND-North has completely changed. Totally different than it was four years ago, and it's a change for the better.   

 

                Changes are visible in the government and the partnerships that are at work.  They're visible in the Iraqi security forces, both with the officers in charge and the soldiers they lead.  And that in turn has led to an overall increase in security.   

 

                Now, as we come to another -- end of another year-long deployment in northern Iraq, I look back at some of the major accomplishments made during this rotation and the incredible momentum that was gained.  And it's still in motion. 

 

                Momentum in northern Iraq has been key to our success.  And as long as it's maintained, the northern provinces have a very bright future ahead of them.  Now, one of the greatest things I witnessed this time -- again, a complete turnaround from 2005 -- is the professionalism and dedication of the Iraqi security forces.  When I was here before, it was difficult to get the ISF leaders to take charge.  But now they are clearly in the lead, and we are here to support them. 

 

                A few months ago, spectacular attacks in Mosul were occurring with VBIEDs and SVBIEDs and thousands-of-pounds explosives being the norm.  Now, because of the relentless pursuit of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, these large-scale, spectacular attacks are rare, and we are actually witnessing not just a decrease in the size of each attack but a decrease in attacks overall, with small arms fire, small IEDs or pipe bombs being utilized as al Qaeda attempts to maintain any sort of relevancy.  In fact, attacks are at their lowest level since 2003.  That being said, al Qaeda remains a dangerous enemy.  But they're also a desperate enemy, one that knows they cannot win. 

 

                Since June 30th of this year, we've also transitioned into another phase of our mission, one that finds our soldiers out of the spotlight.  But they are adaptive and resilient, and it is a true testament to their professionalism the way they continue to serve with our Iraqi partners.  Something I don't feel has been highlighted enough since June 30th is just how busy our soldiers really are, working every single day to coach, teach and mentor our Iraqi partners, a mission which is often more complex than when we were in the lead.  While we are in the cities as an advisory and assistance role, we're also actively engaged in counterinsurgency and border interdiction operations outside the cities.   

 

                One thing that hasn't changed:  When we arrived in northern Iraq last year, one of our main goals was a desire to improve Kurd-Arab relations throughout the region, the northern area.  And we have worked diligently to accomplish this.  And one way of doing this has been to bring all parties together, get them talking, opening up lines of communication and dialogue and bridging the gap between them.  And  by doing so we've been able to get them to see beyond their differences and show them that by working together they'll all be able to accomplish more:  that there is, in fact, strength through diversity. 

 

                As I mentioned earlier, we've come to the end of our time in Iraq.  But I'd just like to remind everyone that as -- we, the United States military, are fully committed to our mission here in Iraq and our resolve to ensure that the future of Iraq is one of safety, security and, of course, prosperity.  And our resolve is stronger than ever.   

 

                We've accomplished so much during our time here, but I believe one of the most important things we've done is to forge a great partnership with the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police, and assist them as they protect the citizens of Iraq. 

 

                So thank you for allowing me a few opening comments.  And I'm sure you've got some great questions, and I'm ready to take your questions now.  

 

                MODERATOR:  Joe? 

 

                Q     General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.  You have said that you are working to improve the Kurds-Arabs relations.  Could you give us an update about what you are doing right now to resolve a series of problems over, like, the disputed areas, the future of the peshmerga?  Could you give us your assessment regarding these matters, sir? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Yeah, Joe, that's a great question.  And there's -- there's a whole lot we've been doing, starting with when we first got here, getting the peshmerga and the Iraqi army forces together to provide joint security for the elections in 2009.  And that really started a close working relationship.  And since then, we've done many operations, the Iraqi army and the peshmerga working together in Diyala and Nineveh. 

 

                The disputed area issue that you mentioned, one of the key things has been a very productive dialogue.  And that dialogue has been occurring at the highest levels.  What we find is, you know, Kurds and Arabs are all Iraqis, and they share the same vision for a safe and secure Iraq.  This dialogue going on about the disputed areas is really about security.  Al Qaeda, of course, was trying to exploit a seam in this security in these disputed areas, particularly against minority populations.  So we have been working to close that seam. 

 

                And it's up at the level of the prime minister, Prime Minister Maliki, and President Barzani, and they'll make a decision on it.  But I can tell you, at the -- at the operational tactical level, we're ready to implement.  And we've had great discussions and constant coordination between all the folks that'll be in that combined security area. 

 

                MODERATOR:  Jeff? 

 

                Q     Good morning, General.  Jeff Schogol, with Stars and Stripes.  I had heard back in August that there was talk that the police chief for Kirkuk City and the province around it could be replaced with a Turkoman. 

 

                Did anything ever come of that? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Yeah, I missed the first part, but I heard the question about police chief possibly being replaced in Kirkuk.  And no, that was a rumor.  In fact, I will tell you that in Kirkuk they have probably the best police force in all of Iraq, and we're very proud to work closely with the police in Kirkuk.   

 

                And General Jamal (sp) is -- I do remember there was a rumor.  It was found not be true.  He is still the police chief, was when we got here a year ago.  He's a very effective leader.  We've had the privilege of working closely with him.   

 

                And then he's done a lot of seminars.  We took some police from Nineveh and other provinces to work together and see how they've become so effective.  And they're a very effective force there in Kirkuk.  But no, General Jamal (sp) is staying.  He is still the police chief in Kirkuk. 

 

                Q     Okay.  And also, in northern Iraq, I understand that's where you see RKG attacks.  Are these a tactical weapon, or are these becoming a strategic weapon? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Well, I'd say they're a tactical weapon.  And they were a problem about 10 months ago.  We saw these -- you know, it's a(n) interesting weapon.  It, of course, explodes and then penetrates armor.  What we did is, we really concentrated on gathering all the intelligence we could of where these RKG-3s were coming from.  We got after the networks and attacks slowed down significantly. 

 

                We also had an initiative where we share -- we used leveraged technology to assist folks on the battlefield, used technology to help soldiers out there fighting the fight.  And we shared ideas.  We got everything from videos of RKG-3 attacks to different formations you can use to make the attacks ineffective.  And that was really powerful, and we saw a great reduction in the effectiveness of these attacks.  And then by getting after the intelligence on where these RKG-3s were coming from, we saw reduction in attacks overall. 

 

                We even had a young soldier that gave the idea of a modification to a MRAP that would help protect against the RKG-3s, and that was sent back to a testing ground in the United States, was proven to work.  And we've gotten some of the first prototypes within weeks after that -- I think it was five weeks, six weeks after the idea came  out.  So we've gotten great help both materially, and then we've shared ideas and then we've used intelligence to get after the RKG-3 threat, and it is greatly reduced.  And we'll stay after it. 

 

                MODERATOR:  (Off mike.) 

 

                Q     General, you have -- your province has -- Arnold Kresher (ph) with A Kind of Failure (ph).  You have some of the most difficult border areas up there, and there's been, in the past, traffic coming across, the weapons and armed fighters.  What's the traffic like across your borders now?  Are -- is -- are the Iraqi and Kurdish forces able to protect those borders? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Yeah, it's a great question.  I think that highlights, as I told you, the unique experience of being -- coming back to the same area.  I was here as a brigade commander, and now back as deputy commanding general, and that's one of the biggest differences.  Just as little as a year and a half, two years ago, approximately about 50 foreign fighters were coming across the Syrian border in particular -- every month.  Now we see that that is greatly reduced, and we estimate less than five -- pretty good estimate, less than five.   

 

                And, in fact, over the last few months, we've seen significant improvements in the Iraqi border forces, both in their equipping and then where -- their training.  And I've got to credit -- the Marines were out west for quite a while, MNF West, and they did a great job working with the Iraqi border forces to professionalize them over the last year.   

 

                We recently picked up the border mission here in Nineveh, just about three months ago, and we've seen that they have improved immensely.  Also, the Iraqi army is much more involved in the border, and we've been able to have, just over the last couple weeks, very, very effective operations to slow the flow of foreign fighters and their equipment. 

 

                Now, it's a big border.  It's a challenge.  You mentioned it. It's a real challenge.  The Syrian border is hundreds of miles, and then we have the border up in the northern part.  Of course, we also have the border with Turkey, the border with Iran.  Turkey, the borders are very well controlled; no issues.  The Kurdish security forces work very hard on the border with Iran.   

 

                In the northern sector, most of it is very mountainous, and it's tough to get large quantities of anything across, except in those, you know, passes that -- where the border crossings are.  But they work very hard at that, and we have transition teams that work with all the  border folks.  So it's slowed significantly.  When I was here, it was up around 70 foreign fighters a month you'd come across.  As little as about a year and a half ago, it was about 50.  Now it's down to less than five a month.  Makes a big difference. 

 

                I think another part of that is not only just the security but, as I talked about, al Qaeda's desperate. 

 

                And they can't get the number of fighters to come that used to, the -- you know, it's obvious it's a losing cause and they don't have the support that they used to.  But then that, combined with the improvements in the border security, has made a big difference. 

 

                Thanks for that question. 

 

                MODERATOR:  Joe. 

 

                Q     General, Joe Tabet again.  In your area of operation, and specifically the Kurdish area, do you know if there is any PKK activities there? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Yeah, Joe, we see a great reduction in PKK activities; you know, again, another thing that's changed a few years ago.  That was pretty significant.  And just about a year ago there was more activity.  But there is a significant reduction.   

 

                I know the Kurdish security forces and the Kurdish region has been working with the central government of Iraq in Turkey very closely to reduce the capabilities of the PKK and the effects, and, you know, we have not had -- that has not been a factor at all.  It's greatly reduced and we just don't see that as an issue in the north like it used to be a few years ago. 

 

                MODERATOR:  Courtney. 

 

                Q     Hi, General.  This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.  Could you talk a little bit more about your answer to Jeff Schogol's earlier question, the modification on the MRAP?  I'm just curious what that modification was. 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Well, Courtney, we're always looking at ways to improve both our tactics, our techniques, our procedures, you know, because this is an enemy we're facing that adapts, and we've got to be able to adapt faster.  And what we are able to do is to leverage technology, capture items.  Maybe, you know, something happens in another sector, the Marines' area of operations, for example, and we're able to take their lessons learned and get them out to all our soldiers and our leaders right down on the ground to the lowest level, down to a company commander and his team on the ground. 

 

                So we put out a request when this RKG-3 issue became a significant one.  Right away the division -- we said, hey, let's share  ideas, and who has ideas?  And one of the ideas was, again, a modification of the MRAP, was really like a -- somewhat like a screen that goes on the outside and causes the RKG-3 to bounce off it and become ineffective.  And that's what the modification was.   

 

                We didn't develop it here.  We sent it back to the states and through the counter-IED task force.  And those folks did a great job supporting us.  They tested it in the states.  And that's the device. 

 

                I think we've got about 40 of them right now on MRAPs.  And one attack we've had since then.  Can't verify, but it was ineffective.  And we think the screen had something to do with it.   

 

                Unfortunately we can't -- I don't want to, you know, say that it absolutely was a factor.  But it was not effective.  And we believe it had something to do with the screen, this improvement.   

 

                But you know, it's not just -- as I think about, you know, there were a whole bunch of ideas, you know, soldiers, they're amazing.  We have the greatest soldiers in the world.  And they share ideas and come up with ideas that are really incredible.   

 

                And using our technology and our computers to share ideas and so forth, social networking if you will only under a classified message. Another thing they came up with was, you know, in the MRAPs, they had a screen, a counter-sniper screen that covered the top, where the gunners were.   

 

                And it was very effective to stop a sniper.  They couldn't see the gunner in the hatch.  However it distracted that individual from looking, having good observation and being able to stop somebody throwing an RKG-3.  There were blind spots.  So soldiers developed a system where they used a series of fiberglass poles.   

 

                So they could see the RKG-3 gunners, still provide protection from a sniper.  But now they can move around more freely.  That's just another example and there's a whole bunch more.  There's dozens of them out there that we shared, within the division, to reduce this threat.   

 

                MODERATOR:  Jim.   

 

                Q     General, it's Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse.   

 

                How will the sort of accelerating drawdown of U.S. forces, from Iraq, generally affect your force levels in your area?  (Off mike.)   

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Jim, you faded out at the end.  I heard about the drawdown.  And how is accelerating the drawdown affecting us?  Was there a second part to that?   

 

                Q     I just wanted to clarify, how will it affect U.S. force levels in your area?   

 

                GEN. BROWN:  You know, we do have still the most lethal area, the most attacks unfortunately.  They're greatly reduced from where they were before.  But as we all know, Mosul still has issues.  And we're working through those.   

 

                But the good news on the drawdown, and I've been working it for the division, being the deputy commanding general for Support.  Corps and Force, Multinational Corps-Iraq and Force-Iraq, have done a great job of providing a very detailed, rapid drawdown of forces plan.  In fact, we started it over six months ago.  And we started looking at how we could -- you know, it's a complex task to draw down so many forces.   

 

                So how we could do that the most efficiently, without affecting the fight and without affecting the partnership and without affecting our support to the Iraqi forces, our support to the provincial reconstruction teams, the State Department, the interagency, all the things we need to do, to help this nascent democracy grow.   

 

                And we have -- we have a really good plan in place.  And we don't have -- of course, we have AABs, advisory and assist brigades, coming into the north.  But they have better capabilities for the enablers we need and the partnership we need.   

 

                So while we draw down, the plan has it in such a timetable that it's going to -- you know, all indications are, it's going to work extremely well.  It's a very detailed plan, very well worked.  And it has a lot of flexibility in there.  So we can adjust if we need to.   

 

                So we'll have sufficient forces to do what we need to do, until the U.S. forces are -- depart Iraq for good.  And we're certainly not going to leave our Iraqi partners, without giving them the capabilities they need and the support they need, as they continue to get better every day.   

 

                Q     Well, when do you see that -- the size of the U.S. force in the north reduce?  And how quickly?  By how much? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Well, you know, without getting into specifics, it starts reducing before the election and then the big reduction, according to the plan, is after -- it is 60, 90 days after election, depends on how the elections go, which -- we expect they'll go very well.  You know, the elections in 2009 up here, where you didn't have one incident, went extremely well.  The Iraqi security forces -- another difference, as I look back, the election in 2005, we had Sunnis boycotting the election.  We had to do just about everything for the Iraqi security fores.  This time, being here for the elections again, kind of unique position, and we didn't -- we coached, we mentored, but boy, they did everything and did a fantastic job. 

 

                So after the election period and the seating of the government, everything continues to go well, which we expect it will, then that's the significant drawdown, of course, after elections, in the post- election period.  And that will leave us in the north sufficient forces, though as they draw down, the advise/assist brigade that's coming in in December will still be here, and we'll still have the forces arrayed in the north, as we do now, only with advisory/assist brigades and a drawdown of some of the -- our own enablers and some of our own -- right now we're drawing down excess equipment, right now, for example.  We started three, four months ago.  

 

                So it's a phased -- and it is also conditions-based.  We're not going to make that decision at my level.  We'll -- obviously the higher levels will make that decision.  If we need to slow it down, we will; speed it up, I know there's talk about that too.  But the plan allows that flexibility. 

 

                MODERATOR:  Jeff. 

 

                Q     General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes again.  When you said you started withdrawing some equipment, are these tanks Paladins, things that you really don't need in the north? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Yeah, it's a variety.  The first thing we did -- it was quite a challenge -- is just looking at all the excess smaller equipment.  You know, when you've been here since 2003, as we have, you know, you get excess equipment that some of the stay-behind equipment that units eventually don't need or it ends up inevitably turning up.  So we did a -- we got a lot of help, teams that would come around and identify excess equipment and reduce the bureaucracy.   

 

                One of my good friends, Brigadier General Heidi Brown, a classmate from West Point, is in charge of the rapid drawdown at Corps.  She's done a fantastic job, and we're regularly in communications.  And the first thing we did was draw down a lot of the smaller stuff, seeing where else it was needed.  And then we had quite a few mil vans' worth of equipment and smaller stuff that moved south. 

 

                Second thing we did is exactly as you said:  We looked at -- if you don't need a Paladin, you don't need a tank, then let's move those back.  And we have actually, in the plan, a phased drawdown of those items.  And the units are right on track.  We're, in fact, a little bit ahead of schedule on drawing those items down. 

 

                Now, at the same time, that doesn't mean all tanks and all, you know, equipment -- the Bradley fighting vehicles or equipment we need is being drawn down.  There's some of it we'll need up here for continued operations.  As you know, we're continuing to do counterinsurgency outside the cities and partner closely with the Iraqis on the borders, as mentioned earlier, and in the rural areas. And then, advising in the city, there's certain equipment we need. And certainly those enablers the Iraqi army still needs we're not going to draw down. 

 

                But yes, some of those items are Paladins; some of them are tanks; some of them are Bradley fighting vehicles. 

 

                MODERATOR:  (Off mike.) 

 

                Q     General, Arnold Kresher (sp) again.  The RKGs obviously are not, you know, indigenous.  You know, have you -- has your intelligence been able to pinpoint where those weapons are coming from?  Are they Iranian?  Are they Syrian? 

 

                GEN. BROWN:  Yeah, that's a good question.  We thought maybe there was one single source where they're coming from.  There was not. The RKGs are made all over the world, and they come from a variety of locations.  We know some came through Syria.  We knew -- we know some came through Iran.  But there's not one single source.  And then some it was tough to determine where they came from.   

 

                But we were able with -- you know, the fight today, the conflict today is all about cooperation and collaboration with our interagency, with our -- you know, our U.S. partners, and, of course, with our Iraqi partners, both the Army and the police, and through the State  Department with the governments, the provincial governments, and of course the central government. 

 

                And working together with all those elements, through good cooperation and collaboration, we were able to greatly reduce the RKGs in the area using intelligence.  And they did come from a variety of locations.  We thought the same thing; it's a good question, because we thought maybe they come from one area.  They didn't.  It came from a variety. 

 

                MODERATOR:  Okay, General.  Looks like we're finished here at the Pentagon.   

 

                I'll kick it back to you for any closing remarks you'd like to make. 

 

                GEN. BROWN  Well, once again, thanks for the opportunity to speak to you today.   

 

                I'd just like to reiterate that there is incredible momentum here in northern Iraq.  Some positive aspects of this momentum are the enduring partnerships that have been formed with our Iraqi brothers, the substantial gains in security and economic ventures, including numerous reconstruction programs for the people of Iraq.   

 

                And I'd also like to remind everyone that the Kurd-Arab relations are critical to the long-term security and stability of Iraq, and we will continue to assist the two governments with confidence-building measures we talked about earlier to foster dialogue and cooperation. 

 

                And as the United States draws down its military presence in Iraq, we'll continue to facilitate its growth and opportunity.  We're very proud of the incredible progress that's been achieved thus far as a direct result of the efforts of the outstanding men and women, military and civilian, who are actively engaged in the Iraq -- Iraqi peace process. 

 

                I'd also like to remind you that everyone over here has a family supporting them back home, and that they, the families, are sacrificing just as much, and I'd say if not more, than those of us over here.  So I'm very proud and honored to serve with such outstanding individuals and thank their families and all the families for their unwavering support.   

 

                So thanks very much for joining us today, and I truly appreciate the great questions and a chance to tell the story from here in northern Iraq.  Thanks. 

 

                MODERATOR:  Thank you, General.

 

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REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY

PROHIBITED.

 

     UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION

CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION

LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL

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     FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT

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ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT

OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.

 

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