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U.S. Commander Says Iraqi Forces Improving

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2005 – Iraqi forces are shouldering more of the security burden in north-central Iraq, the coalition forces commander there said today.

Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, the commander of Task Force Liberty and the New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division, said U.S. troops in north-central Iraq are working to build independent and self-sustaining Iraqi security forces and to maintain pressure on the insurgency. "Our work is protecting the process that will allow Iraqis to develop their new government and build their own sustainable security forces," Taluto said.

The region, from Kirkuk to outside Baghdad, is about the size of West Virginia and is home to about 6 million Iraqis. "Task Force Liberty represents nearly 23,000 soldiers who partner with our Iraqi counterparts," Taluto said.

The Iraqi contribution is large and getting larger and more capable, the general said. There are 50,000 members of the Iraqi army, border patrol and police services in the area. "In recent months I have seen the contribution of our Iraqi army partners rise dramatically," Taluto said. "Iraqi units now conduct over half of the counterinsurgency fight. They do this either independently or jointly with our soldiers."

The Iraqi Ministry of Defense is establishing a clear chain of command in advance of Iraqis taking over the total security burden, he said.

North-central Iraq has two Iraqi army division headquarters, with five army brigades. Earlier this year, Iraqi units took over security responsibility for Kirkuk. Coalition units will continue to provide command and control and logistics support for the units until the Iraqi divisions become effective, Taluto said.

The Iraqi division headquarters have administrative - but not operational - control of the brigades and battalions. The divisions are putting together their staffs and developing processes to effectively run the units, Taluto said. They will eventually plan and conduct the operations. "That's going to take them ... somewhat longer," he said. "They're not going to be in a position to do that for a while."

The Iraqis are doing more by themselves. Taluto spoke about an incident in Kirkuk to illustrate his point. "There was a vehicle-borne (improvised explosive device) that was parked in Kirkuk in a very busy market area," he said. "Citizens saw the car parked. They thought it was strange. They reported it to the local police that are there in Kirkuk on the street.

"The police reacted to that, cordoned off the area, brought in their own (explosive ordnance disposal) team, had the car inspected, and sure enough, it was rigged for explosion," he continued. "They defused it; they got rid of the vehicle-borne IED; and they reported it out to their media."

Not one coalition soldier took part in the mission. "That is happening more frequently," he said.

In June more than 4,000 Iraqi citizens provided Iraqi forces with information and intelligence. Taluto said these tips lead to finding eight out of 10 arms caches. The general said this is "a sign of Iraqi confidence in their police and army forces and the cooperation of the Iraqi people to ensure their security. Our assessment is that the Iraqi security forces are greatly improved and are striving to get better every day."

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Biographies:
Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, USA

Related Sites:
42nd Infantry Division



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