DOD News Briefing with Col. Lusk from Iraq
(Note: COLONEL GREGORY LUSK appears via teleconference from Iraq.)
COLONEL DAVID LAPAN (director of Press Operations, DOD): All right. Good morning. Good afternoon for Colonel Lusk. We're privileged to have with us today Colonel Gregory Lusk. Colonel Lusk is the commander of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Multinational Division-Baghdad.
Colonel Lusk assumed his current duties in Iraq in May of this year. This is his first briefing to us in this format. And he joins us today from Camp Liberty in Baghdad. Colonel Lusk has a few comments, and then he'll take your questions.
Colonel Lusk, thank you again for joining us today, and it's over to you.
COL. LUSK: Okay. Thank you very much, Dave, and good morning. As mentioned, I'm Colonel Greg Lusk. I am happy to be speaking to you today from the Victory Base complex here in Baghdad, home of Multinational Division-Baghdad's 1st U.S. Cavalry Division.
I have the honor and the privilege of commanding a tremendous group of volunteer citizen-soldiers who comprise the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team. We are traditionally an Army National Guard unit that is headquartered out of Clinton, North Carolina, which is halfway between Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Our nickname is "Old Hickory," in honor of our namesake, Andrew Jackson. And we proudly carry the lineage of the 30th Infantry Division of World War I and World War II fame.
Although the largest contingency of our brigade is comprised of units from North Carolina, we do have large contingents from the states of West Virginia and Colorado.
And we are also very pleased to have within our formation U.S. Army reserve units -- from Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri -- as well as active-duty servicemembers and teammates from the U.S. State Department's embedded provincial reconstruction teams, who hail from and proudly represent almost every state in America.
Now, on the surface, one would readily identify the nearly 4,000 uniformed servicemembers that are on this team. However one could easily triple or quadruple the size of our team, if we included the number of family members and employers whose daily sacrifices and unwavering support are every bit as vital, to accomplish the mission that those of us who are deployed here are charged to accomplish.
And if I could give you a brief orientation as to where we're located, our area of operation or operating environment, physical location of our assigned area -- operating environment is indeed the southern districts and the southern belts of Baghdad. It is a blend of urban and rural terrain. And it's comprised primarily of East and West Rasheed, as well as the Mahmudiya qadha.
Now, our area is referred to as the land between the rivers, because we are bordered by both the Tigris and the Euphrates River on each side. We reside with 2.5 to 3 million Iraqi neighbors in an area that is a little over twice the size of New York City.
Our units and soldiers, we occupy bases that total four forward operating bases -- such as FOBs Styker, Falcon, Mahmudiya and Meade -- and three joint security stations -- such as JSSes Yusufiya, Dora and Copper.
Our mission here in Iraq is to secure the population of those that reside within our operating environment, in order to support and enhance the continued development of Iraqi civil capacity.
Since we assumed responsibility for our area in May of this year, from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division -- who had returned back to home station after 15 months of successful operations in support of the surge -- we have set out to accomplish our mission by focusing primarily along two main lines of effort. The first being our partnership with the Iraqi security forces and the combined security operations that we do together, as well as civil capacity.
And we see both of these lines of efforts being inextricably linked to the goal of securing the population. One complements and indeed facilitates the progress in the other.
An important component of our overall campaign plan is indeed partnership, and we do partner in all that we do, whether it be with the Iraqi security forces, local/provincial government or governors and officials, tribal leaders, or with the everyday citizens of Iraq.
Now we recognize that the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces is forthcoming, and partnering is a vital component in order to allow us to continue these efforts long after U.S. forces have either been reduced or redeployed from the region.
So if I could address Iraqi security force partnership for a moment, "by, with and through our Iraqi partners" has been the mantra that this brigade has followed since their arrival here in Iraq. And a period of constant change probably best summarizes our experiences to date with respect to our partnership efforts, such as what might be highlighted by the implementation of the bilateral security agreement back in June 30th of this year.
This component of our campaign plan has been extremely rewarding, as both our forces have worked side by side, sweated and succeeded together in pursuit of a common objective, that of preventing the resurgence of violent extremist groups.
Now our Iraqi security force partners include the 17th Iraqi Army Division, which comprises about 10,000 jundi, or soldiers; the 2nd Iraqi Federal Police Division, comprised of approximately 3,000 shurta, or police officers; another 2,000 local Iraqi police; as well as about 20,000 members of the Sawa, or the Sons of Iraq; totaling of about 35,000 members of the Iraqi security forces.
Now despite the seemingly large numbers of security forces, the maintaining of hard-earned security gains would not be possible without the support of the people. Many have become our good friends and indeed they often invite us into their homes in order to share a meal, a cup of chai or just simply casual conversation.
It is my assessment that the preponderance of the population that we see on a daily basis do indeed denounce violence and simply strive to distance themselves from the past and are committed to creating a sustained peaceful future, so that they may provide for their families and allow their children to experience an ever-brightening future.
And if I could civil capacity for a moment, early on it became evident that enhancing and supporting the expansion of civil capacity would be a vital cornerstone to our mission.
To this end, we have committed a vast amount of our resources in terms of effort, time, money and resident expertise such as engineers, agricultural experts and law-enforcement professionals, just to name a few.
Now, we have diligently leveraged these inherent skills towards civil-capacity expansion by acknowledging its significance to setting the conditions that will prove essential to providing a peaceful and viable alternative for Iraqi families and their ability to provide for their sustenance.
In summary, hundreds of projects have been aimed at increasing access to water, primarily drinking and agriculture; have been implemented; as well as dozens of schools have either been built or renovated in order to enhance or improve the educational opportunities for future generations of Iraqis. Dozens of essential service projects, such as roads, sewers and electrical repairs have been undertaken. And lastly, we've embarked upon a holistic reestablishment of the vital economic value change in the dairy, poultry and agricultural industries to facilitate restoration of our region's rightful claim as the breadbasket of the Middle East.
By the time we redeploy, we project that we will have committed to over 200 projects and about $20 million total towards this effort, with approximately a million dollars of it being targeted to small, independent business owners throughout our area of operation.
In terms of security gains, you know, our primary mission, as stated before, is to protect the people of Iraq. And in so doing we have fully supported and partnered with our Iraqi security force brothers in order to take the fight to the insurgents and other forces of instability. Since our transfer of authority, our ISF partners, with our support, have detained hundreds of insurgents, to include key insurgent cell leaders, VBIED makers, attack facilitators, financiers, logisticians and recruiters.
Now, this fruitful and productive relationship with our Iraqi security force partners has resulted in the reduction of capabilities for al Qaeda in Iraq operating within our operating environment, as well as the reduction in capacity of former special groups and other rejectionists.
We have reduced the -- we have seen this reduction of high- profile attacks throughout our operating environment as well as we have found and dismantled IEDs as well as clearing weapons and ammunition caches. Again, as long as we are here, we, in support of our Iraqi security force partners, will continue to take the fight to the enemy.
So what's ahead? Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the Iraqi national elections are on the horizon. With the recent passing of the election law, Iraq has indeed reached an important milestone.
And we recognized early on that this would be a key event for our time here in Iraq, and all of our efforts since our day of arrival have been dedicated towards accomplishing this goal and setting the conditions and supporting the Iraqi desires for holding these important elections.
In conjunction with this historical event, we will also be preparing our soldiers and equipment for our eventual redeployment back to home station. However, that will not prevent, nor will it hinder us accomplishing our mission of supporting the elections.
Now, as we look ahead at our impending departure and reduced presence -- future reduced presence in the southern belts of Iraq, our focus will be to ensure that we execute both a responsible and an honorable withdrawal. However, in our remaining time here, the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team will continue to support the government of Iraq in their effort to make the lives of Iraqi people safe, secure and, indeed, prosperous.
"Old Hickory" has indeed brought the full-spectrum warrior to the full-spectrum fight.
So I thank you very much for your time to make this opening statement. And with that, I'm now prepared to take your questions.
Q Colonel, hi. This is Kevin Baron, from Stars and Stripes. I wonder if you could tell us, in those -- all those chai teas and meetings with locals, what's the mood going up into the elections, given the recent bombings -- the mood of both your guys, the Iraqis you're working with, and the people that you're meeting and talking with on the street?
COL. LUSK: I'm sorry, Kevin. I heard you mention something about chai, and then you were asking me about the meetings with the -- with the local Iraqis. Could you say that one more time? I lost you.
Q Certainly. I was asking what's the mood on the ground leading up to the elections that you're hearing from the locals in those meetings; but also, the mood among your guys and the Iraqis that you're partnering with, the security forces?
COL. LUSK: Oh, okay. I understand. Okay, you're talking about the mood of the people. I could say, just from my personal observations and the many communications I've had with the local Iraqis, as well as some of the sheikhs, indeed there is a -- there's been, no doubt, an interest in how the elections were going to proceed.
Now, of course, I haven't had the chance to talk to many of them since the announcement has been made, or the decision for the Iraqi election law. So I'll be curious to go back and find out what they're thinking now. But no doubt, they were all looking forward to it. They see this as a very, very important part of their -- of their growing democracy, and they are indeed looking forward to the opportunity to cast a vote.
Now, as far as -- as far as our soldiers and the Iraqi security forces that we partner with, indeed, there's a -- there's a lot of work to be done prior to the elections, but it's nothing -- it's nothing new that we haven't been doing all along.
So there's probably not going to be anything out of the norm. They are indeed expecting it. And as we get closer, obviously, we'll focus more attention towards some of the more specific needs required to defend, say, polling sites or provide protection around polling sites.
Hope that answered your question, Kevin.
Q Colonel, Otto Kreisher with CongressDaily. What do you see as your unit's role in the election security? You know, in the past, you know, election, we tried to pull back and let the Iraqis take -- be out in front. What are you -- what -- what's your assignment as far as security for this election?
COL. LUSK: Okay. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name at the beginning. So could you -- could you repeat that one more time for me so I know --
Q Sure. Otto Kreisher with CongressDaily.
COL. LUSK: Okay. I'm sorry, it's just not coming in very well. But I'll move on to your question anyway. So thank you very much for it. I think what you're asking is what is our role in the -- in the security, primarily as we head up to the election. And the -- and indeed, our operations are indeed in support of the Iraqis. They've been in the lead, and they've had responsibility for that security since our arrival. And of course, we came in right towards the end of May and assumed responsibility for our area. And it was June 30th, so almost a month later, before it formally took place.
And they have indeed been in the lead all along, ever since then. And we have been supporting and enabling and assisting them at every step of the way. And indeed -- it's indeed a partnership. We offer to them some capabilities that perhaps they don't have, and of course we take advantage of opportunities and resources that we don't have -- cultural awareness and just understanding the populace being one very critical piece of it.
So as we move on, again, towards the elections and what our responsibility is -- again, is indeed to support and assist them as they carry out securing the elections for the -- for the population. And I hope that answered your question as well.
Q Yeah, this is Kernan Chaisson with Forecast International. You mentioned one of the things that is going on is clearing IEDs. Could you give a little bit of a feel for how that is working now?
Are any of the new technologies helping, or is it intel, or just what is going on in that arena?
COL. LUSK: Okay. And I think I heard Jay, and you were talking about the clearance of IEDs and how we go about doing that. And I think you were particularly interested in the -- in the technology.
There's no doubt about the fact that we have our technology. This has been using -- and of course it's been advancing throughout not only the time that we've been here but also the time in between our deployments. So the technology definitely is critical.
Our route clearance teams, who go out now with our Iraqi security force partners, with their route clearance teams, and conduct their missions -- and by using this technology, they are indeed able to go out and, in my opinion, prevent a lot of IEDs from being emplaced.
However, I will say that it's my observation, again, inside of the operating environment that we have, that most IEDs, if indeed are found, are found by the population, which is probably even more evidence of what I've said in my opening statements, that most people have indeed -- are denouncing the violent ways of the past and indeed as an IED -- they consider that as an attack against their neighborhood and potentially a threat to their future stability. So they're very much involved in the process, and therefore they take advantage of tip lines for contacting the Iraqi security forces, or perhaps even if us if they see us going down to -- to let us know that something's going on. So probably more so than anything, it's the population that's helping find any IEDs that are out there.
Q Colonel, Raghubir Goyal from Asia Today and India Globe. The question is that, one, how much threat do you think you still have as far as al Qaedas are concerned? And can you claim victory now in Iraq? And finally, what the president and the people working in Afghanistan can learn from Iraq to have a victory in Afghanistan?
COL. LUSK: I'm sorry. I have to -- I want to ask -- maybe they can turn the volume down just a little bit. I really didn't hear hardly anything that you asked. I'm sorry. If we could repeat that again, I'll be happy to try.
Q I'm sorry. One, can you claim victory in Iraq? And two, how much threat still there is from al Qaeda? And finally, what do you think the president and the generals and commanders working in Afghanistan can learn from Iraq situation?
COL. LUSK: I'm sorry; I'm asking for some assistance here because I really want to answer your question. It's just not coming in very well over here. Oh, okay. Okay. I'm getting some assistance here. And I think that you're asking if indeed we can claim victory in Iraq and if indeed what we're doing right now is supporting victory.
You know, that's a very interesting question. And indeed, I think it's probably a question more for the Iraqi people to answer more so than me.
I can tell you that I feel like we're achieving a great deal of success with our Iraqi security force partners, and they continue to progress on a daily basis. And so I see signs of improvement everywhere.
And again, I can just give you some casual observations. We are indeed seeing the return of people that are coming back into the cities, repopulating or perhaps moving back into their neighborhoods that they had displaced in the years past. Seeing a tremendous increase in traffic. It actually reminds me of home in a lot of cases. And indeed I see signs of progress occurring all over the place.
And again, victory, I think, is going to be really up to the Iraqi people to define as to whether they would actually call it victory or if indeed they would just consider it to be part of continued progress and therefore be happy to receive it.
Q Hi, Colonel. Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. I believe the brigade that was supposed to replace you has been taken out of the deployment schedule. Are you worried that there might be a security vacuum left behind once you redeploy?
COL. LUSK: Okay. I think you were referring to the unit that at one time had been scheduled to replace us, that I think -- and I'm sorry, I probably know just enough about this to be dangerous, but I know indeed they've been re-missioned or perhaps going somewhere else. Don't know the facts behind that.
But there will be a unit that will come in behind us, no doubt, and indeed we're continuing to plan that. So, security vacuum? I honestly don't see it, at least particularly in our area of operation. And I say that, again, with the full confidence of having watched the Iraqi army as well as the Iraqi federal police and local police do their jobs -- with the assistance and the involvement of the population, once again.
So again security is -- it requires the input and the involvement of all parties, the Iraqi security forces and the people. And we see that occurring every single day.
So whether there will be a security vacuum or not, obviously I couldn't tell you that. But I'm not concerned about it in our area at the time that we're scheduled to leave.
Q As things settle down, do you find that an enemy you have to combat is boredom?
COL. LUSK: I'm sorry. I heard boredom was the key.
Q Are your troops having to combat boredom?
COL. LUSK: Oh, okay. I understand you, combatting boredom.
You know, I haven't run into anybody yet that's combatting boredom. We still have -- we still have a great deal of work to do and have been very busy since our arrival. And that runs the gamut of whether it's indeed doing combat operations, with our Iraqi security force partners, or whether it be doing civil capacity patrols or out being involved in civil capacity projects; training, assisting and advising.
There's just a whole host of things that we are still doing. And I cannot -- I cannot imagine that we have anybody that's being bored right now. So no, I haven't seen that.
Q Otto Kreisher again.
You mentioned you had 20,000 sons of Iraq in your area. There's been some concern/frustration particularly in Anbar province that the government has not, you know, offered jobs or any future for the sons of Iraq.
What's your experience with how those people are responding to what the government is doing for them?
COL. LUSK: Okay, I think, your question was primarily along the SOI or the sahwa, the transition to government jobs. And I think I could probably summarize by saying that indeed this has got to be a very challenging decision that they're weighing through on a daily basis or considering.
Since our arrival, of course, there was a great deal of skepticism up front, as to whether any transition of the sahwa would indeed take place.
And indeed, the government of Iraq, through the IFCNR and other agencies here in Iraq, has gone through a lot of efforts in order to make that transition occur. And there have been approximately 3,000 in our area that have transitioned to government jobs already.
Now, the balance -- of course, though, the challenges that they have before them, I would think, is the need to fulfill this obligation of transitioning some of the other -- the Sons of Iraq into government jobs, versus when to do so; especially keeping in mind the security needs leading up to the elections. And while I have absolutely no insight as to what they're -- what they're deciding now, I can only imagine that it's got to be a pretty daunting decision that they're getting ready to go through.
COL. LAPAN: Courtney.
Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube, from NBC News.
I came in a little late, so I apologize if you touched on this already. But I'm just curious what the status is of the H1N1 vaccination among your troops. Has anyone been vaccinated yet? Are they in-country? What's -- what's the status in your area, please?
COL. LUSK: I think you're asking about our vaccination of soldiers for the H1N1. And we have not -- at least, inside of my brigade, we have not commenced that vaccination yet. I understand that it's coming in the -- in the near future, but unfortunately, I don't have the exact date as to when that'll occur. But I'm confident that once it's available, there will be many people looking forward to giving it to us, as well as a lot of soldiers will be looking forward to receiving it, so -- and I hope that answers your question.
COL. LAPAN: Kevin?
Q Hi, Colonel. This is Kevin Baron again, from Stars and Stripes.
You mentioned in your opening remarks about some of the civil capacity programs. And my ears perked up when you said poultry and dairy programs. And can you tell me what's the military's involvement in a poultry and dairy program now?
And secondly, you know, we're doing counterinsurgency there, which means the military, you know, has to ensure the security so that the development projects can occur. At what point, if we're not there yet, do you see that the military can stop doing development programs and let development people do those, and the military gets back into, you know, its job of security? And are we also showing a timeline of when that's happening? What do you see in your -- the civilian programs in your area?
COL. LUSK: Okay. And I think along the lines of the military and its transition back to a traditional military role, I think, is the crux of the second half of your question.
And Kevin, I think in that regard I think that's indeed what's getting ready to occur over the next couple years. And of course I'm speaking of myself and my personal opinion.
But right now in this full-spectrum fight or environment that we're in, that it requires indeed the ability to go back and forth from traditional military jobs and missions to civil capacity and stability type operations. And indeed that's -- as I said also in my opening remarks, one does not exist without the other, and as one advances, so does the other, because of it. Security obviously enhances the ability to expand civil capacity, jobs creation, et cetera, as well as, as more people have jobs, then, of course, they will more -- they will be less likely to seek nefarious means of making a living.
So they're equally important and one does not exist without the other. And oftentimes our patrols and our soldiers by doing so demonstrate their resilience on an everyday basis, by their ability to do both, oftentimes on one mission as they go out the gate and before they come back.
Now, as far as military involvement in so many civil capacity projects, such as dairy, I think you were asking about, we're very fortunate that within our ranks, we have a few dairy experts as well as some poultry experts. And we've taken them and we combine their efforts with USAId and other agencies that are here with the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team.
And with that, of course, we now go back and work with a lot of the Iraqi populace, who have historically raised chickens and dairy cows within our area, and we get together in order to find ways that indeed they can, I guess, modernize their technologies and get that at least started so that, again, in the long term there are employment opportunities available for the people. And, of course, it would just, hopefully, in the long term facilitate a long-lasting partnership with our country and other parts of the world.
Q I just wanted to go back to my question on -- that so much assessments and meetings are going on as far as how to deal and have victory in Afghanistan. What can they learn from Iraq as far as situation in Iraq is now different than in Afghanistan?
Can they -- is there something -- they can learn something, president or the generals on the ground?
COL. LUSK: Sure. I'm sorry -- cancer -- oh, okay. Okay. Yeah, thank you. And I think -- I think your question is along the lines of lung cancer, dealing with burning of debris. Anyway, assuming that was your question, I'll answer to the best of my ability.
And of course we are -- we're very aware of some of the claims of a couple potential cases of cancer that occurred up around the joint air base in Balad. And, of course, it's important to -- that you realize -- that we realize and we recognize how important our soldiers are to the mission. Obviously, we could not accomplish a thing without them, and they were indeed the backbone of our mission and our organization.
So their health and welfare is indeed a primary concern and a high priority for us. So whenever there is anything that raises its head or gets brought to our attention that may be of concern, then we're very eager to jump on it and commit whatever resources to make sure that either one is not occurring, to confirm it; and if there are some things that we need to do to mitigate and perhaps reduce potential exposures, then of -- obviously we'd do that.
Now, I can tell you that, within our area, probably our biggest concern with that was along these -- particularly in the areas of our small joint security stations, very small, confined, relatively austere and, again, relative to, say, the southern suburbs of Baghdad, being rural and remote. So there are -- there are limited abilities to take things -- to haul things out of some of these JSSs.
But in -- and in each case, we have looked at that extensively and have not found any issues whatsoever. So all I can, again, is just talk about our experience. Have not seen it, nor do we see any signs that that would be a concern for us.
COL. LAPAN: Okay, great. Dave Lapan here. Great answer, but let me redirect you back, because you didn't quite get the question, so I'll give it a shot from here. He was asking about lessons learned as folks here are looking at Afghanistan, lessons they might take from the experience in Iraq.
COL. LUSK: Oh, okay. So I was way off base. Okay, I apologize for that. But I appreciate the chance to expound anyway.
Okay, some of the lessons that can be taken from here to Afghanistan? Boy, I -- you know, there's -- probably about the only thing I can think of that would be -- that would be some continuity between this.
And indeed it's the importance of relationships and indeed the genuine commitment that you make, to your partners, and your partners not only being the security forces of the respective areas but also the population.
And indeed if the genuine rapport and the relationships are built then I think from that, anything else is possible. So that's probably the one key lesson that probably could -- that could transfer from here to Afghanistan. And other than that, I would just have to say that I'm absolutely ignorant as far as things in Afghanistan personally having not ever been there.
COL. LAPAN: Anything else?
All right, Greg, that's it. We'll kick it back to you, for any closing remarks you'd like to make.
COL. LUSK: Okay, great, thank you.
First, I want to take the time to thank all of you for being with me today. And I would like to extend an invitation to all of you, an open invitation, to join us at any time that you desire, during the remaining time that we have here in Iraq.
And I'd also like to thank you for your genuine interest as you displayed in our mission, which is indeed a mission that is so honorably being executed by citizens and soldiers, who are always ready to selflessly put their private lives on hold in response to our nation's need.
Now, we should all recognize and be extremely proud as we watch -- as we witness America's next greatest generation, as they nobly shoulder the burdens of this protracted period of conflict.
Now, along with them, we should also recognize and express our gratitude toward so many others not serving in uniform -- such as our family members, employers, State Department and other U.S agency professionals -- whose sacrifices, contributions and commitments to the mission are every bit as important as those of our soldiers, in the overall effort.
Now, we're proud to be serving in Iraq during what may prove to be a defining period in this nation's history, and we are indeed honored to be serving with our patriotic, determined Iraqi security force partners, who similarly shoulder an enormous responsibility in securing their citizens and country from the indiscriminate acts of an enemy who acts without conscience.
To our Iraqi friends that we've met since we've been here, thank you for our hospitality and friendship. We trust that what we started here will last throughout many future generations.
And to our families and friends back home, our work here is indeed far from over. However, rest assured that we will remain resilient and we will remain focused on the tasks that lay ahead and take comfort in the knowledge that with each passing day, it brings us closer to our long-awaited reunion. So we look forward to seeing you soon.
COL. LAPAN: All right, thank you, Colonel Lusk.
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