In September, Operation Iraqi Freedom became Operation New Dawn, as the focus of the U.S. mission in Iraq changed from security operations to stability, with the capabilities of the fledgling Iraqi security forces as a key factor.
With the mission transition, U.S. Forces Iraq has changed some of its goals to reflect both the progress of the Iraqi forces and persistent threats in the area, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, a spokesman for the command, said during a recent “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable.
“Under Operation New Dawn ... we have three major tasks for stability operations,” he said. “The first one is to advise, train, assist and equip the Iraqi security forces; our second task is to partner in counterterrorism operations; and our third task is to support and protect the civilian workers that come from the U.S. Mission Iraq or the embassy as they work to build civil capacity throughout the country.”
While the joint task force has been making progress on all fronts of the mission, Buchanan said, a lot of work remains to be done before U.S. forces leave Iraq at the end of the year.
Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, illegal arms, militias and basic crime all pose threats, he added, but thanks to the combined efforts of U.S. and Iraqi forces — coupled with the death of Osama bin Laden — al-Qaida’s influence, finances and ability to recruit new members or bring in foreign fighters has been greatly diminished.
Although al-Qaida’s effect now is isolated, the organization’s strict adherence to radical ideologies and its willingness to continually murder innocents make the group dangerous, the general said.
Iraqi and U.S. forces also see a problem in smaller, foreign militias, the most prevalent being the Promised Day Brigade, Asaib al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, Buchanan said. These forces, which are not Iraqi-financed, may not have the country’s best interests in mind, he added.
“Because they frequently represent a foreign agenda, they undermine Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said. “They’re also, as I see it, an affront to all Iraqis, in that there is only one legitimate security force in the country, and that’s the Iraqi security forces.”
In addition, violent crimes such as armed robberies, assassinations and kidnappings are exacerbated by easy access to arms and ammunition, Buchanan acknowledged, noting that these violent activities are not necessarily related to terrorism. These violent attacks have gone from 145 a day in 2007 to just about 13 a day in the first four months of 2011, the general said, calling that a positive trend and a sign the country is heading into stability.
“You see signs of normalcy throughout the country, and the traffic is flowing a lot more freely,” he said. “Police are pulling security, as well as the army. The security forces are increasingly professional, and the security forces, in fact, deserve much of the credit for all of the significant security improvements.”
U.S. Forces Iraq officials hope to help the Iraqi forces in establishing competent intelligence networks to maintain and even further decrease these trends, the general said.
“One of our major efforts for the rest of the year ... that we’re very much focused on (is) helping them build a system of systems that allows them to work together across all agencies to better identify collection requirements, to share, to analyze and then disseminate (intelligence data) across agencies.”
Buchanan said officials also plan to help the Iraqi forces with sustainment and logistics, as well as the integration of combined arms into their operations.
Right now, he said, the Iraqi forces are a force for external defense of the country, but implementing infantry, artillery and armored forces and attack aviation would better meet the country’s future security needs.
Buchanan said he hopes that U.S. and Iraqi forces can continue to learn from each other after the mission transition. He added that he sees the countries having a mutually beneficial long-term relationship in other areas besides defense.