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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Training and leadership in Lutifiyah

Wednesday, 30 August 2006
By Spc. George Welcome
2nd BCT PAO, 101st Airborne Division

LUTIFIYAH — In the early morning of Aug. 16, a combined force of U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers conducted “Operation Babylon” just outside Lutifiyah. The operation marked one of the first time Iraqi forces have taken the lead in a mission since taking over responsibility for the Lutifiyah area Jun. 15.

A joint force composed of Soldiers from the 6th Iraqi Army Division, along with the U.S. Soldiers from Military Transition Team 1, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad, captured six suspected terrorists.

The success of the mission is not only further proof that the Iraqi Army is maturing in its role as defender of Iraq, said the U.S. commander, but also that the hard work and training of MiTT 1 has not been in vain.

“The purpose of the mission was to seize brigade and battalion targets and deny (terrorists) safe haven in the area,” said 1st Lt. David Cochrane, commander of U.S. ground forces during Operation Babylon.

An Iraqi Soldier checks the contents of a small box during the search of a home as part of Operation Babylon. Department of Defense photo by Army Spc. George Welcome.“What prompted the raid was intel we’d gotten over the past few months indicating a large group of individuals belonging to a terrorist cell was in the area,” Cochrane said.

While making tangible anti-insurgent gains, the mission also served to boost the Iraqi troops’ confidence in taking the lead on a combined effort.

“When we first got here, we did more of these types of missions,” said Cochrane. “Since we handed over the sector, they have kind of tapered off. We let them build the intel, build the mission and go do it own their own.”

MiTT 1 Soldiers said their Iraqi cohorts are doing well in their new roles.

“With the IA taking the lead, they really have been doing a good job,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Jones. “Their initiative is there. Their officers have been doing a good job explaining task and purpose to their Soldiers. We are here more in an advisory role to help them out in situations that they get stuck in.”

The teamwork between the two groups has been key to strengthening the Iraqi Army.

“Our relationship with them has been excellent … Especially when Col. Ali was here,” Cochrane said. “We built a good rapport … they’d invite us over for dinner.”

As with many of the best trained Iraqi units, however, success earned them a promotion.

“Unfortunately, a lot of those officers left when Col. Ali transferred up to brigade,” Cochrane explained. “We’ve had to start over from scratch since most of the original officers are gone.”

There has been more continuity in the relationship between non-commissioned officers and Soldiers on both sides.

“The NCOs here have spent countless hours training the Iraqi army from basic soldier skills to what we’re doing now – leading Soldiers on missions,” Jones said. “The IA Soldiers and NCOs have come a long way since we started, and that has a lot to do with the rapport we have built from the beginning.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Iraqi forces in the Lutifiyah area is the lack of local Police force. Lacking any first responder on maintaining law and order, the problems of fighting both crime and the insurgents falls squarely on the Iraqi Army.

Internally, the institution is hindered by the lack of a solid NCO corps.

“The structure of the Iraqi Army does not emulate the American structure,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Greis.

“What we know as an NCO Corps, they do not have in their army. Their NCOs don’t get paid any extra money for added responsibility, and they might not even have the same soldiers from day to day,” he said.

Though the U.S.-led training program hasn’t always been easy, troops say that each day they are able to see the fruits of their labor.

“They’re coming slowly but surely,” said Greis. “From June until now, they have been in charge of about half of the missions. You train on a task today, and tomorrow you are out in combat doing it. It’s not like you are just training, you are out there with them the very next day facing IEDs and everything else that comes with war.”

The American’s ability to prepare the Iraqi forces to defend their territory will play a crucial role in determining the duration of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

“The guys I have had the pleasure of working with for the last year on the MiTT are the best this battalion has to offer,” Greis said. “They’ve done a hell of a job under extreme circumstances. It’s not easy to go out on patrol; it’s even harder to go out with people you don’t know and you can’t speak their language. It’s a testament to their ability.”

Category: Press Release.
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