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Coalition Accelerating Efforts to Put Iraqis in Lead

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2006 – Coalition forces are stepping up their efforts to make Iraqi security forces capable enough to take over security for their own country, which is something the Iraqi and U.S. governments both want, a coalition spokesman in Iraq said today.

“In the end, only Iraqis can provide solutions to Iraqi problems,” Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a coalition spokesman, said in a news conference from Baghdad. “We continue to work closely with the government of Iraq to develop an Iraqi security force that is both operationally capable and has the confidence of all Iraqis, regardless of sect or ethnicity.”

While Iraqi forces continue to face challenges, they are still growing and taking responsibility for more territory, Caldwell said. On Dec. 1, the Iraqi ground forces command and control took authority for the 3rd Iraqi Army Division, which is now the third of 10 Iraqi divisions to be completely under Iraqi control. The division also took control for security operations in its area, bringing the level of independent Iraqi divisions to 70 percent, Caldwell said.

“The Iraqi security force is increasingly taking the lead every day,” he said. “They are battling an insurgency in order to establish a safe and secure nation. This week saw several engagements that show how the Iraqi security forces increasingly tactical, operational proficiency is being developed.”

U.S. military transition teams embedded with Iraqi forces are essential to the proper development of the Iraqi security forces, Caldwell said. These units work closely with Iraqi forces, teaching and coaching them and developing leadership qualities. The transition teams have proved their value in operations throughout Iraq, and the coalition will increase the number and size of these teams in the future to speed the transition to Iraqi control, he said.

To further assist the transition, the coalition is working with the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior to accelerate leadership development, logistics and communications capability, and the creation of operational and tactical reserves, among other programs, Caldwell said.

In a conference call after the news conference, Caldwell said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs a more mobile force that can react quickly to situations around the country.

“He wants to have the ability to do that -- where he owns those forces, they can respond immediately, they’ve got movement capabilities inherent within their organization,” Caldwell said of Maliki. “That’s where his immediate frustration comes from; he wants that capability. We’re working to give him that capability.”

For the Iraqis to assume full responsibility for their country, they will need to acquire a broader range of capabilities beyond counterinsurgency, Caldwell said in the news conference. A positive step in that direction was taken with the establishment of a river-patrol unit to bring order and control to the Tigris River, he said. This new unit, consisting of five boats, patrols the river around Baghdad and allows the Iraqis to secure their waterways and protect their people, he noted.

The level of violence remains unacceptably high in Baghdad, Caldwell said, but the coalition remains optimistic that a political solution can be reached to bring peace to the area. The illegal arms groups are hard to deal with, because they are difficult to track and create a cycle of violence and retribution among the different factions of Iraqi society, he acknowledged. However, the government of Iraq is committed to finding a political solution to the problem, and leaders from all ethnic groups are working together behind the scenes to resolve their issues, he said.

The future of U.S. troops in Iraq is unclear, but the goal of the coalition remains to transfer responsibility to Iraqi security forces, Caldwell said. The coalition is funding the addition of 12,000 Iraqi troops to the force structure and training another 18,000 troops to act as replacements for those who have been killed or injured, he said. It will take time to develop the Iraqi forces, he said, but the coalition is constantly working with the Iraqi government to create a competent, capable force.

“Developing these forces is not a sprint; it’s a marathon,” he said. “The Iraqi security force is making progress toward ensuring that Iraq’s future will be determined by Iraqis who want unity and prosperity, and not by outside forces who seek to sow chaos and discord.”

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