Task Force Commander Says More Mobile Force Will Have 'Right Blend' of Units
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2003 The coalition forces commander in Iraq said today that a changing U.S. military unit composition will yield a more mobile force in Iraq.
"I am a commander that has a mission to accomplish and I have to structure the force accordingly," Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Combined Joint Task Force 7 commander, told reporters in Baghdad. "We are moving (toward) a more mobile force, one that has a right blend of light and heavy (units) that is rapidly deployable across the battle space that I own and we will have more infantry at the time and be able to move that force."
Sanchez suggested that any reduction in force would come in the areas of logistics, where he said the coalition has replaced that capacity with contracting support. Another decrease will come in the tactical and strategic signals units, which can be replaced with commercial capacity. Also, he said, the coalition has contracted significant amounts of Iraqi support, which will allow the United States to withdraw transportation assets to an extent.
The general also shared his observations on President Bush's highly secret visit by to Iraq Thanksgiving Day. He said it sent a strong message to soldiers and the Iraqi people that the U.S. leaderships at the highest levels stand behind them.
Sanchez and U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer had just delivered opening remarks to the 600 service members assembled to enjoy dinner with high-ranking officials. Bremer, a former U.S. ambassador and following protocol, asked aloud if there was a higher-ranking official present to read the president's Thanksgiving proclamation, at which point Bush entered the dining facility.
"It was an unbelievable experience to stand there and feel the intensity of the moment as he walked out on to that podium," Sanchez said. "Without saying a word, every soldier in there at that moment understood that America was behind them, that all levels of leadership in America supported them, that the president was committed to the mission and more importantly that there would be no wavering in this mission, that we're not going to walk away from here."
Describing the president's visit as "electrifying and emotional," Sanchez said that message reverberated throughout the room and then very rapidly spread across the command.
Sanchez also reported the daily average of engagements in Iraq against U.S. troops has declined 30 percent in the past 14 days. "We had had some days where we went as high as 50 engagements, and over the last seven-day period we are down to an average 22 engagements per day," he said. "And this decline is most significant in the areas where we have taken the fight to the enemy and where we have been the most aggressive in our offensive operations. And I guarantee you that we remain ready to respond should these engagements increase again."
During the briefing, Sanchez provided reporters with examples of how offensive operations against the enemy have reduced the number of attacks. He said that in Operation Iron Hammer, the 1st Armored Division working with "actionable intelligence" and the Iraqi security forces and using airpower and combat systems on the ground has led to a decrease of 70 percent in the number of enemy attacks in Baghdad.
Sanchez said division raids netted over 180 enemy personnel, to include high-level Baath Party officials and a number of detainees believed to have ties to the rocket attack on the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad Oct. 26. He said operations have also resulted in a "laundry list" of weapons and ammunition seized.
Also the 4th Infantry Division offensive operation dubbed "Ivy Cyclone II" in the north central region helped decrease the numbers of attacks against coalition forces in that area, he said. Sanchez pointed out that division soldiers have worked closely with Iraqi security services through targeted patrols and ambushes, cordon and searches, and raids that have led to the capture of over 600 personnel suspected in involvement of anti- coalition activities and seizure of significant number of weapons and ammo, including plastic explosive, blasting caps and improvised explosive devices.
"In the IED area alone we captured 101 IEDs that were found ready to employed against our forces," Sanchez stated. "These were found, defused and destroyed."
The coalition commander also talked about misleading reports on enemy tactics and the seemingly high number of U.S. casualties. "Overall, when you look at the number of casualties that have occurred over time, they have remained fairly consistent, "Sanchez explained. "You take those incidences where we had the attack on the Italians, where you had the CH-47 and our UH-60s that crashed in Mosul. Those were the spikes in casualties that occurred, and clearly you can't refute those as effective attacks and that we incurred additional casualties than normal," he said.
"But in terms of my assessment of the overall progress, there is absolutely crystal clear evidence that we are making progress, that there is an increasing confidence in the Iraqi people and there has never been a question in the coalition forces that we are going to succeed here," he maintained. "And that is displayed every single day out on the battlefield."
Sanchez said one clear indicator for the rationale in his assessment of the security improvement in Iraq is that more Iraqis continue to help coalition forces with ammunition and weapon turn-ins. And, more importantly, they help identify anti-coalition individuals that have been "targeting or planning to target" coalition forces across the country.
However, he said the attackers have diverted their violence to strikes against Iraqi civilians, government officials and the Iraq infrastructure. That strategy, he said, is a "strategic mistake" by the enemy.
"These attacks are designed to attract media attention, obstruct the significant progress made in essential services and the economy and in governance," Sanchez observed. "This is an attempt clearly to drive a wedge between the Iraqi people and the coalition, to drive a wedge between the coalition and its international components, and (to) isolate the American elements of the coalition from the rest of its partners."
Sanchez said that in the 32 days since the start of Ramadan, the Muslim religious observance, attacks on civilians and Iraqi security forces have more than doubled. He noted that for the period, the enemy has conducted 74 attacks against civilian or Iraqi government officials and 84 attacks against Iraqi security forces.
"These are attacks on key officials such as ministers, police chiefs, Iraqi security forces, and, more importantly, the innocent people of the country," Sanchez noted. "The stark reality that we all have to face is that these terrorists have no vision for the future of Iraq, except to create or re-create a repressive state."
Sanchez said the aim for the attacks on coalition and Iraqi civilians is to intimidate the population, "to create fear and uncertainty." The attackers are hopeful that fear among Iraqi civilians "will drive them away from the coalition" and the emerging governing structures and security services that have committed to a democratic country.
That strategy "will not succeed," Sanchez stated. "Our will is unchanged, and the coalition along with the people of Iraq remain totally committed to a safe and secure environment, one that will foster the growth of a free, independent self-governing country without the oppression of the former regime."
The U.S. military in Iraq continues to play a vital role in the civil assistance and support operations by rehabilitating schools, supporting electricity production, and providing water and medical care, Sanchez said. "All of this (is) designed to support the journey that we are embarking on together toward accelerated sovereignty for a safe and democratic country of Iraq."