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October 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 09 October 2008 - Not Yet at the Tipping Point

This briefing is by COL Philip Battaglia, Commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. He spoke via satellite Thursday to reporters at the Pentagon.

I believe that the 4th Brigade Combat Team is part of Multi-National Division - Center, which is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division. Major General Michael Oate is the commanding general.

Maj. Gen. Oates reports to reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reporst to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM until Gen. Petraeus assumes command later this month,. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

There was quite a bit of interest in this briefing. If there was any one theme, or question that got asked more than any other, is was about Iranian influence. Since they're relatively close to the border, this is to be expected. But political influence is bad enough, arms and insurgency unacceptable.

From their opening statements

COL. BATTAGLIA:... My mission is to partner with the Iraqi security forces to secure the population, defeat terrorists, interdict the flow of munitions into Iraq and enable the reconstruction efforts of the PRT.

We work very closely with the 10th Iraqi Army Division, the Iraqi border enforcement units and Iraqi police every single day on a wide variety of security tasks. We live where they live, amongst the population and at various outposts and smaller bases throughout our area of operation. We're having tremendous success because we've combined our technological advantages with Iraqi firsthand knowledge of the terrain, the culture and those intangibles that only come from being an Iraqi.

We've seen the security in this area improve significantly since our arrival in July. The provinces are overall very stable, with occasional attacks by special groups and other criminal elements. Our combined offensive operations represent only a small part of what we do. We are very focused on improving the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and enabling Dan and his PRT to conduct their reconstruction efforts.

MR. FOOTE:... As Phil mentioned, there had been no American presence or coalition forces presence in Maysan province for well over a year before Iraqi military operations commenced in mid-June. This is a province that has historically faced a lot of empty promises from outsiders and has seen significant militia influence and illegal arms smuggling from Iran

Let me touch briefly on what we're talking about when we mention capacity-building. The chief role of the PRT is to teach, mentor and partner with provincial and local governments, civil society organizations and other provincial actors, increase their abilities, efficiencies, technical expertise and transparency.

So the Maysan province has been neglected, which is a challenge but also creates an opportunity. If we can provide security and then boost the economy in a place like this, we'll have gone a long ways towards defeating the insurgency and stabilizing the country. Hopefully this will also create goodwill that we can leverage.

On to the Q & A

Q Colonel, this is David Morgan from Reuters.

Can you tell us about your border security operations and what you've been able to interdict, what you've been seeing in terms of weapons flowing in from Iran?

COL. BATTAGLIA: Yeah. Thank you very much for that question, David.

As -- in terms of our border interdiction efforts, the improved security throughout Iraq has allowed us -- has allowed coalition forces to focus more in Dan's province, in Maysan. And since my arrival here, I have moved two battalions in the Maysan province, approximately about 1,800 soldiers. And we are partnered with the 38th Brigade of the 10th Army in that province, along with the Department of Border Enforcement forces right along the border and of course the Iraqi police.

In the past three months, our operations, in coordination with Iraqi security forces, have seized well over 8,000 -- I believe you have a sheet here that kind of talks about what we have interdicted -- a lot of the improvised explosive devices, IEDs, the EFPs, the explosively formed penetrators, about 600 of those deadly devices that we have taken off the streets, along with rockets -- 107, 122- millimeter.

What we have found is -- in the rockets in particular, we find that the manufacturer and lot numbers are Iranian-made.

So I hope that answers your question.

Q Give us some idea of whether the volume of weapons has been increasing or decreasing, and who the intended recipients are.

COL. BATTAGLIA: Yeah. Our intelligence indicates that -- we know that we have had an effect and we have disrupted the flow of weapons. After the first two months, primarily in July, August time frame, we have found that our discovery of caches of these weapons systems has decreased. So we believe that and we know that we have interrupted the flow of these explosives. What the normal -- our intelligence indicates that Amarah, in the province of Maysan, was an area -- since there was no previous coalition forces there, for a while, it was an area where these devices were assembled and them from there shipped to other parts of the country, into Baghdad and other places.

The bad news is that Iran is still smuggling weapons into Iraq, the good news is that we are doing a better job of interdicting them.

Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent paper (published Oct 6) on the subject of whether recent attacks were carried out by AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) or Iranian Special Groups. The authors, Claire Russo and Marisa Cochrane, examine the publicly available evidence and believe that it is most likely Iranian elements that are responsible

In any event, they say, i's important to get it right, because "Giving AQI credit for attacks of which they are not capable has serious consequences. This benefits Special Groups, AQI, and Shi'a sectarian political agendas, and is problematic for Coalition Forces and the SoI(Sons of Iraq)."

Continuing on the same theme of Iranian influence:

Q Colonel, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Do you think there is any Iranian influence through political -- Shi'a political parties in your area?

MR. FOOTE:...There's no question that there is a certain level of Iranian influence. The four main parties in Maysan province are a Sadrist umbrella party, ISCI, Da'wa and Fadhila. ISCI and Da'wa have ties to Iran, long and fairly strong. Ironically, the Sadrists are probably the most nationalistic of those parties.

Have we seen a ton of malign political Iranian influence to date? Not that I'm aware of. With provincial elections on the horizon, I think we're going to be looking at an interesting time. Iranian influence in Maysan province is to be expected. It's a neighboring country. The tribes along the border have people on both sides. There's going to be some of that that happens, and we expect and accept some of that to happen.

It's the smuggling, the malign influence, the Iranian accelerants that Colonel Battaglia and his folks are very focused on taking care of.

COL. BATTAGLIA: Yeah, exactly, and Dan's absolutely right on that.

We are -- what we experience and what we hear, what I hear from the, from the Iraqi security forces, some of the leaders of the 10th Iraqi Army Division, the police and so forth, same thing.

There is some Iranian influence, you know, not very overt at this time. And, but everyone is kind of bracing a little bit to see what happens during the upcoming provincial elections, I think.

So if I'm reading this right most of the Iranian involvement is military and not political.

One more exchange on a theme that we've heard time and again in these briefings; that although the fighting ability of the Iraqi forces have improved considerably, they still have big problems with logistics.

Q Gentlemen, Bill McMichael, Military Times papers. General Petraeus has repeatedly warned that this might be -- the positive trends in Iraq and the gains that have been made, that the situation is very fragile and things could easily reverse. I wonder if you would discuss what you see in the province you're working in.

COL. BATTAGLIA: I can, you know, lead off on that a little bit and talk about, you know, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi security forces. I have -- I have mentioned here to you about how capable they are. They're able to plan and to execute operations. But of course, we're there and we supply a lot of those enablers -- some, you know, additional intelligence -- intelligence air assets, intelligence platforms to kind of narrow their focus of their operations. All those types of enablers, the Iraqi army has yet to build.

The Achilles' heel of the Iraqi security forces, in my opinion and what I see here in these provinces is their logistical system. And you know, that's well-acknowledged, in terms of maintenance and availability of repair parts. So although the Iraqi security forces are capable and willing to go out there -- that's my experience -- at the same time there are other facets of these security forces that must continue to grow -- you know, logistics, like we talked about, their intelligence assets and other type enablers -- to make them a more capable force....

Logistics is an "unglamorous" aspect of warfare. It's much more fun, if you will, to discuss weaponry and tactics. Yet history shows time and again that wars are as often won or lost on the ability to supply an army or navy in the field. All the advanced weaponry in the world, and the best strategy and tactics, do you no good if you can't keep your troops fed, ammunition coming, and vehicles working.

I am not quite sure what the difficulties are but obviously it is something that needs to be resolved.

The final comment by Mr Foote presents both an opportunity and a warning:

MR. FOOTE: I think the population of Maysan is a very fickle one. Through history -- World War II and the British, earlier Iraqi regimes, Saddam Hussein, the British -- they've heard a lot of empty promises over the years.

We have an opportunity as coalition, American and with the new power of the Iraqi security forces in there, to take advantage of the opportunity to give them optimism and show them reason for a better life. It's not going to last forever. And we're certainly working hard and have had some quick wins with the population, some good press events and humanitarian assistance, some infrastructure things.

Are we at the tipping point, as General Petraeus likes to say, where Maysan has tipped and will be stable? Not yet. I think over the next six to 12 months what Phil and I do and our teams do and what the Iraqi security forces and the result of the provincial elections is going to be key to what happens there.

Are you listening, Barack Obama? If you win, don't pull them out precipitously just to satisfy your extremist anti-war base (and probably your own instincts). If you do, you risk losing everything we've gained so far. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld were criticized in the early years of the war for not listening to their generals and colonels, some of whom were warning that the strategy was not working and that they needed more troops. Let's not make the same mistake again.

Posted by Tom at October 11, 2008 2:13 PM

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Great posting!

Posted by: Americaneocon at October 12, 2008 3:58 AM

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