3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team leadership held a video teleconference media roundtable Aug. 6 to discuss how the drawdown of troops in Iraq is affecting the brigade as it prepares to return to Fort Benning. The brigade is responsible for advise-and-assist missions across five provinces in Iraq.
As part of the drawdown, advance and “torch” parties for the brigade — approximately 600 Soldiers — will begin departing for the U.S. next week, said brigade commander COL Pete Jones, speaking from his office at the brigade’s headquarters at Contingency Operating Station Kalsu. The remaining Soldiers will redeploy in September and early October. The brigade’s advisory mission will pass to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood, Texas.
The goal of the brigade’s yearlong deployment has been to help close or turn over control of bases in Babil, Najaf, Diwaniyah, Karbala and Wasit provinces to the government of Iraq by Sept. 1, the start of Operation New Dawn. The drawdown of U.S. forces began in 2008 after the peak of surge operations and is scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2011, in accordance with the Iraq-U.S. Security Agreement. Eighty percent of U.S. bases in the country have been closed or transferred to the government of Iraq, according to Army statistics.
In the past year, the brigade worked with Iraqi security forces and provided support to Provincial Reconstruction Teams and other organizations helping Iraq to build civil capacity.
The brigade has transferred two outposts to the Iraq government and will close or return another eight by the end of the month, Jones said.
What the troops are doing LTC Chris Kennedy and LTC Shaun Tooke were on hand from their location at Contingency Operating Base Delta in Al Kut, Iraq, to discuss the goals and accomplishments of their Soldiers during the deployment.
Kennedy, commander of 3rd HBCT’s 3rd Cavalry Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, said the Iraqi security force’s effectiveness helped make the transition of bases seamless.
The squadron is based at COB Delta in Wasit Province and works with the 32nd Iraqi Army Brigade, 3rd Department of Border Enforcement Region and its 7th Brigade to secure Iraq’s borders and population. Nearly 200 kilometers of the province borders Iran. The squadron turned over Combat Outpost Zulu to the Iraq government in July as part of the reduction of forces.
“It’s a natural progression as the Iraqi security force takes the fight,” Kennedy said. The squadron helped prepare security forces by partnering together for events such as mounted and dismounted live-fires, surveillance and border patrols and helping leaders to “cross gaps in their observation plans,” he said.
While the squadron assisted security forces in the province, 3rd HBCT’s 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, conducted stability operations and enabled the Provincial Reconstruction Team to facilitate development of civic infrastructure to provide sustainable security and governance for Wasit Province.
LTC Shaun Tooke, 1st Battalion’s commander, said his Soldiers support approximately 3,000 at COB Delta as well as training, advising and assisting Iraqi police, the federal police, the 8th Iraqi Army Division’s Transportation Division and the Provincial Reconstruction Team. The battalion brought together an investigational team with members from the PRT, law enforcement, Iraqi judges and investigators to increase the province’s capacity to conduct criminal investigations. The battalion coordinated artillery training and mass casualty exercises with the security forces.
1st Battalion and the 3rd Cavalry Squadron worked together in assisting security forces during the national elections with partner patrols and unmanned aerial vehicle coverage. 3rd HBCT’s commander said the success of the elections showed the Iraqi security forces are “up to the task” and ready for the upcoming troop reduction.
1st Battalion’s commander said he anticipates the reduction to be “a transparent process,” “They may see less visits (from U.S. forces) until they then reprioritize what they want us to assist with,” Tooke said.