MODERATOR: Well, good morning everyone. We have reached the appointed hour here in the Pentagon and over in Iraq, too.
Good morning. It's a privilege to have with us today Colonel Joseph Martin, who's the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Multinational Division-Baghdad. And with him is Ambassador John Bennett, who is the officer in charge of the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team 6, which is, I'm sure, working with Colonel Martin's brigade there.
Colonel Martin and Ambassador Bennett are coming to us from Camp Victory today. And without any further ado, then, I'm going to -- we're going to go over to Iraq and see if they have opening comments for us. So let's go to Iraq.
Colonel Martin, can you hear me okay?
COL. MARTIN: I can hear you loud and clear. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for taking the time to share a moment with me and your interest in the 2nd Dagger Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division.
It's an absolute honor to have this short opportunity to relate our story on our ongoing experience here in Iraq.
The soldiers and leaders that I command are based out of Fort Riley, Kansas. We began our journey to Iraq back in April 2007, when we formed a brigade from the Army newest -- the Army's newest organizations, the heavy brigade combat teams. Today, 22 months later, we served as part -- we serve now as part of Multinational Division Baghdad, currently commanded by the 1st Cavalry Division.
Our Iraqi partner unit is the 6th Iraqi Division, based here in northwest Baghdad, and we've got five Iraqi police districts as well. Our area of operations is the northwest area of Baghdad, where we share the responsibility for three critical districts of Baghdad. We are deployed on a 12-month deployment operating under the new security agreement, which was enacted on the 1st of January between Iraq and the United States. Our mission here is simple and focused: secure the people, allowing them to continue building civil capacity and returning to normalcy.
We find the Iraqi people and the government overwhelmingly supportive of our partnership with the Iraqi security forces. Fundamentally, they are all ready to put the difficulties of the past many years under the former regime behind them and look forward to a bright and hopeful future.
I mentioned that we trained for almost 18 months in preparation for our deployment. But even with the best training that any army can experience in the entire world, we've been constantly amazed at the changes that have occurred in just the last four months since we arrived. A new security agreement governs our partnership operations. Iraqi provincial elections occurred without any noticeable violence, and it was Iraqi-funded, Iraqi-led and secured exclusively by our Iraqi counterparts. Our role is to fully support and assist our counterparts in whatever -- in that great endeavor.
And finally, we're seeing U.S. forces move out of selected sites within Baghdad, transferring them to the Iraqi government ministries or security forces as designated by the government of Iraq. It's been an exciting and action-packed time for the Dagger Brigade.
The brigade's rich history stretches back to World War I, where under General Black Jack Pershing's leadership, we forged our reputation under the American Expeditionary Forces banner. Today, under the Multinational Forces colors, we're again entering an exciting stage of our unit's legacy. Violence is at an all-time low since 2004, with record low attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces.
We assess the security situation here steadily improving, becoming more permissive each day.
The enemy is severely disrupted but still present and evolving. And our partner Iraqi forces take nothing for granted when it comes to the security of Iraqi citizens.
Definitive economic growth is seen on all the streets of Baghdad. And infrastructure improvements abound. My counterpart commander, Major General Abdul Amir, and I both expect conditions to continue to improve.
We both believe that this is due to a combination of factors: security, a stronger local Iraqi and national government and the energy of the Iraqi people and the great markets here. And to specifically focus necessary infrastructure improvements here, we have an embedded provincial reconstruction team, which is headed by former Ambassador John Bennett.
John, do you have a word from our audience at this time?
MR. BENNETT: Thanks very much, Joe. I do.
First of all, it's a pleasure to be here with you this morning. And as you -- Colonel Martin has given you an idea of where we are. We're truly at ground level. We deal with people.
We're part of the BCT. The EPRT is embedded with it, as journalists are embedded with the brigade combat teams from time to time. However our chain of command, if you will, goes back to the embassy, through the Baghdad PRT, up to the Office of Provincial Affairs, to the ambassador himself.
I myself have been here finishing up my second year. My team is in its third iteration. And we're going forward. The team is small, just seven people.
What do we do? If you compare us to, let's say, Google, we are an active or a proactive Google. The idea is to give sound, current advice and counsel and ideas to the brigade combat team.
In the areas and particular some of those areas affect security; others are more along the political, economic lines. And of course very important is our services.
What we're really interested in is not so much individual things to do but more to uphold or to recover institutions which have fallen on ill times here in Baghdad, for example, the department of public works.
Baghdad was built by Iraqis, for Iraqis. And that's been the way it is since 762.
Our idea is to, as the military is mentoring and coaching and dealing with the Army, we're also -- with the Army, U.S. Army -- we're out working with services, working on politics, working on economics.
Our goal is to implement at the ground level United States government policy with one voice on behalf of the American people, our employers.
Back to you, Joe.
COL. MARTIN: I'll end my initial comments with we got over 3,800 soldiers in the brigade. They're committed to the daily missions and the people of Iraq.
Soldiers like Command Sergeant Major Donald Battle, my wingman, the command sergeant major of the brigade, who puts in six days a week traversing the terrain here, meeting with people, leading soldiers and making sure that they uphold the highest standards.
Soldiers like Sergeant First Class James Mullen (sp), the day battle -- the day shift battle noncommissioned officer for our headquarters, who navigates the actions of the brigade like a captain of a supertanker, with the state-of-the-art battle command systems that we have available to us.
Finally, soldiers like Pat -- Patrick Lusek (sp), a driver of one of the many combat patrols, who's on his first deployment and proudly wears now the patch of the 1st Division, an organization that's got over 90 years of storied history.
There are countless of hundreds who make me the luckiest commander in the United States Army today. We can't thank them enough. We can't train them hard enough. We can't provide them enough of the best equipment on the face of the Earth, because they are at the heart of this mission every day.
They are amongst the Iraqi people, standing guard, on point, on patrol, with the security counterparts, ensuring that every Iraqi has the possibility of a bright future.
Thank you for allowing me to make a -- or allowing us to make a brief introduction, and we're ready to take your questions at this time.
MODERATOR: Okay. Very well.
Courtney, go ahead.
Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Can you update us on the sectarian tension, any sectarian tension you're seeing in your AOR; specifically, after the election, if you saw any increase of violence, sectarian violence, protests, anything like that?
COL. MARTIN: Frankly, Courtney, I can't recall any sectarian violence post the elections. It's actually been very stable since that point, and I think that's an indicator that everybody is very pleased with the outcome of the election itself.
Q If I could also ask a question of Mr. Bennett, you mentioned that you work with the department of public works there in Baghdad. Can you update us on the sanitation situation, if you have any insight into that, and then also on the average daily electricity that the majority of people in Baghdad are seeing? It seems like that number has been relatively stagnant for the past year or two. They haven't really been getting -- Iraqis in Baghdad have not been getting an increase in electricity on a daily basis.
MR. BENNETT: Let me -- let me answer your questions as you gave them, but in reverse order. On electricity, which is a national question because of national grids and national ministry involved, it's not 24 hours a day in Baghdad, or elsewhere in the country. It's growing that way, and in some areas of Baghdad -- for example, the hospitals, police stations and so on -- it has been and remains 24 hours a day.
However, through much of our three districts that Colonel Martin and I work, it is several hours a day; more in the winter than in the summer, because of the demand going in the winter -- going in the summer, because of the air conditioning and the heat.
More interesting, however, and what we can affect more closely, are the cleaning. And there with the department of public works, we have worked with them, first of all beginning two years ago in 2007, to organize, help them reorganize an ability, a capability to move into the areas under -- that were being contested, particularly in the southern part of our three districts in northwest Baghdad.
That's worked. One would have to conclude that the assistance we have given them, they picked it up; they took it forward. Yes, we primed the pump, but the trash is -- trash collection is being done by Iraqis, for Iraqis. We're interacting with them yet, but it is an Iraqi operation.
Q Thank you.
COL. MARTIN: For this brigade, we've noticed a dramatic improvement in those areas that the ambassador's talking about, specifically in essential services. It's not each day that you can see the change, but if you drive in one area, from one week to the next, you can see improvements. And we expect these improvements to continue, as a result of the great program that John just spoke of.
Q Colonel Martin, this is Donna Miles from the American Forces Press Service. It's been almost two months now since the Status of Forces Agreement and the new strategic framework took effect.
I'm curious about how this is impacting the day-to-day operations your soldiers are conducting.
COL. MARTIN: Donna, that's a great question. It has a huge impact, but let me explain what I mean by that. It does change the way that we did business fundamentally, but this is something that we prepared for before we ever arrived. Specifically, before we arrived we realized that partnership was going to be at the heart of our success here.
And as we arrived in late October and transitioned in November, we began partnering with the Iraqi security forces, seeing that the security that was established as a result of the surge enabled the situation where the Iraqi security forces could move forward and partner with us, and to the point that when the security agreement was enacted, we could partner with them, them in the lead, side by side, and execute operations. So as we launched into the first of the year, it was another day for this brigade, because we prepared to partner with them before we ever arrived.
The soldiers have embraced this well, and each day this partnership grows and we continue to watch our Iraqi security force partners improve as a result of that and frankly their own efforts and success.
MR. BENNETT: If I could just add on one point here, there's also the strategic framework agreement, which is really just beginning. What Joe was talking about is in place. The strategic framework agreement, on the other hand, is just getting under way. The good news there is, where the U.S. announced a Fulbright program of $2-1/2 million -- and this is at the embassy level -- for Iraqi students to go to United States, the Iraqis met that same challenge, and they've put up their money, too. So it will be something very, very positive and long-term very, very effective, I think.
Q If I could follow on, what do you expect the impact of that Fulbright relationship to be?
MR. BENNETT: The Fulbright program, which goes back 50 -- 40, 50 years now and actually longer than that before the name Fulbright was attached to it, has been a prime way that world leaders -- literally world leaders have gained access to mainly graduate schools and American scholars have studied abroad.
So under that general framework, we learn more about one another. It's truly a win-win situation and will be the basis long term for our relationship, because people who go through Fulbright in 10, 15 years as they mature and go through their professions have great, great impact.
Q (General ?), hi. I'm Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes. Continuing on Fulbright, could you explain a little bit of how many students that's expected to cover, the cost that you've mentioned? And what's the long-term goal for expanding that program? Is it -- is there money for five years, 10 years, et cetera -- how far in the future are you looking?
MR. BENNETT: Okay. That program is not being run by the Baghdad EPRT 6 nor by this good brigade here. I'm going to have to duck that question. Suggest you get hold of the public diplomacy area of the State Department to get the details on the program. I'm just highlighting it as an example of what the -- of the excitement that the Strategic Framework Agreement is bringing to us.
Q Then I'll go back to something earlier. You were mentioning the electrical grid. If you could explain a little bit more of why we're -- I believe at this point we're still experiencing only partial amounts of electricity per day. What are the root causes for that? And then what it will take to fix that, to get that up to, you know, a normal working city with electricity 24 hours a day.
MR. BENNETT: Sounds to me like a military problem.
COL. MARTIN: Well, I think in the end it comes down to this is a higher-level problem than us in northwest Baghdad. I know that it's something that we continue to monitor, but it's -- the national grid is something that would be much more appropriately addressed at a headquarters above us.
MR. BENNETT: And the fact is that through many, many years, more consumers, degraded equipment, war damage and so on, there's just simply not enough electricity. The security situation over the last few years contributed to that.
The good news is that we saw that as also an opportunity with some of the people that we have outreach to to be trained as generator mechanics. Small generators are in great demand here on the street, so we have set up some training programs, vocational-type programs, to train people on generators.
So we've turned that lemon, if you will, into a small glass of lemonade.
COL. MARTIN: And we've done some other initiatives as well. Recently we opened a solar power project on a clinic in A'amiriya, where the clinic and its critical services receive continuous power. And that has made a huge difference for that particular clinic. And we're actually looking at some others to expand in that regard.
Q Colonel Martin, this is Courtney from NBC News again. There has been a lot of talk in the past few weeks, here in the Pentagon press corps, about increases in U.S. troops to Afghanistan, specifically a large Marine Corps contingent that was announced recently.
Presumably that will mean a decrease in Marines in Iraq and the overall Marine Corps footprint in Iraq and in Anbar province. Are you doing anything in preparation for this decrease in Marines? Will there be any increase in patrols in your area? Or will you be sending any soldiers into Anbar?
Is there anything -- any way that this is going to affect you in neighboring northwest Baghdad?
COL. MARTIN: Courtney, I will tell you that the moving of soldiers or troops, from one location to the other, is something best asked the people in the Pentagon and the national command authority. But I will tell you, before we deployed, the one thing I told the soldiers, of this brigade, as simple as it sounds, is the only thing I can tell you that won't change, is that everything will continue to change throughout the year.
If you have a numerator of security, that remains constant regardless. Below that, you have a denominator of the conditions, which continue to change. And we will maintain that continuous security situation and in a changing environment make sure that we continue to maintain that, in concert with our security partners here. But future operations would be pure speculation.
We know that things will continue to change, as I talked about in my initial comments. But right now we're focusing on maintaining a steady level of security with our partners. And as we need to continue, as we need to change things, we'll do that. But we'll keep that overarching mission of maintaining security at the same state we started with here.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, gentlemen, looks like we've exhausted the questions back here in the Pentagon. So as is our tradition, we would like to close with any final comments you have or anything that you've thought of, that any questions have spurred, that you'd like to give to us.
COL. MARTIN: Well, I want to thank you all for allowing this opportunity.
But before I provide my closing comments, John, do you have any closing statement?
MR. BENNETT: Just something very short -- first of all, appreciation for being able to join you on this program today with my colleague Colonel Martin and, again, to reiterate that what we're doing is implementing at the ground level one policy and one voice from one people; that is U.S. government policy from the combined brigade combat team and Embedded Provincial Reconstruction team on behalf of the American people. Thank you.
COL. MARTIN: I've got four things I'd like to leave with you.
One, it's incredible, the progress I've seen since I arrived back here, having served here a couple years ago, in 2003, 2004. Within our area that we're in right now, an area in January 2007 that had 25 attacks per day, currently the attack-per-day ratio -- or the attack- per-day rate is down to less than 1.5. All right, that's 5 percent of what it was in January 2007. That's a function of, first, the Iraqi people and their strength and resilience; second, Iraqi security forces; and third, the strength of our partnership with those security forces and our relationship with the people here.
I'd like to thank each of you for the opportunity to speak about what superb soldiers of this tremendous brigade are doing every day for the people of northwest Baghdad in concert with their security partners. Their discipline and high standards remain the cornerstone of the numerous successes here, and they frankly amaze me every day.
I'd like to send a special thanks to our families and friends back in the greater Fort Riley community out in the middle of Kansas. Their continued support coupled with their caring efforts for brigade rear detachment has allowed me and frankly the entire brigade to focus on point, on mission.
Most importantly, we want to thank Junction City, Manhattan and northeast Kansas and our community partners in Dickinson County for all of their support. It's a great community there, a great place for soldiers to know that their families are cared for. Their continued support allows us to focus on mission and continue to be successful here in Baghdad.
Thank you very much. Have a wonderful evening.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you gentlemen for your time. And we wish you the best of luck in the future. And hopefully we'll hear from you again down the road. Thank you both for coming.
MR. BENNETT: Thank you.
COL. MARTIN: Thank you.
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