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October 30, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 28 October 2008 - No More The "Triangle of Death"

This briefing is by Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), also known as the Rakkasans. They are also known as the Strike Brigade Combat Team. Col. Hickman spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon last Wednesday.

Caraccilo's 3nd Brigade Combat Team is part of Multinational Division-Center, otherwise known as Task Force Mountain. The 3rd Brigade has been operating in a rural area to the south of Baghdad, and are scheduled to return home next month, after which they will have served 15 months in Iraq. They are the last unit on a 15 month tour, all current and future unit deployments will revert to the 12 month standard.

Caraccilo reports to Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, the commander of MND-Baghdad. Hammond, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports 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 there on October 31. The commander of CENTCOM reports directly 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.

Remember the "Triangle of Death" which in 2006 was considered lost to the insurgents? No more.

COL. CARACCILO: ... the Rakkasan's area of focus has been in the Mahmudiyah Qadha, and this qadha's part of the Baghdad Province, but it's primarily a rural area situated south of the city and its focus is on agriculture. The region's approximately the size of Rhode Island, and it has four main cities named Yusufiya, Lutifiyah, Al Rashid and Mahmudiyah. The qadha's population is 75 percent Sunni and 25 percent Shi'a, with the concentration of Shi'a residing in the towns of Mahmudiyah and Lutifiyah and along the road that connects the two cities.

Now, you're probably most familiar with this region by the name given it -- given it over two years ago, and it was called the Triangle of Death. From 2004 to 2007 the area bound by Yusufiya, Mahmudiyah and a town called Iskandariyah to the south was a nexus for enemy activity, which included Sunni insurgency in the countryside, Shi'a death squads and extrajudicial killings along the -- (inaudible) -- corridor and a virtual highway for both Shi'a and Sunni insurgency resources coming in from western and southern Iraq.

In the past, the Triangle of Death was the site of brutal attacks against coalition forces. It was riddled with IEDs and it was considered no-man's-land for both coalition forces and non-combatant Iraqis.

It's important to highlight the atrocities of the Triangle of Death in order to appreciate how far this region has come. One year ago, in November 2007, coalition forces encountered 73 IEDs. In September, 2008, that number was 15 and most of those were found before they -- before they were detonated. One year ago, the average number of attacks per week was 28. That number today is less than two.

A year ago, our preceding unit lost 50 American soldiers and 277 others were wounded in action. We have only felt the hardship of a fallen soldier once during our deployment, and have sustained only 22 combat-related casualties in the last 14 months.

These traditional statistics of combat, however, do not capture other significant changes in the landscape. In May 2008, Iraq Sons in the 4th Brigade and the 6th Iraqi Army Division launched a wide- sweeping offensive, which focused on security enhancements as well as infrastructure improvement. Our embedded provincial reconstruction team played a significant role in the operation as well....

The Rakkasans are clearly approaching the end of deployment to Iraq, as was stated. When General Oates first addressed the brigade commanders of Multi-Division Center, he asked two questions. First, what do we need to do to leave Iraq, and then what does the plan for transition to Iraq look like?

From my vantage point, it looks like the Iraqis (are) in the lead on a host of issues and strong support for coalition partners....

The improvement all over Iraq is amazing. The "Triangle of Death" is no more.

On to the Q & A. From the first exchange, the dramatic improvement is evidenced by the fact that we will not need to replace Caracillo's brigade with another unit of equal size. Instead, his 4,000 man unit will be replaced by two battalions that total 1,800 troops. The reason is that security is much improved and the Iraqis are capable of managing on their own with only U.S. assistance.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. I'm just a little bit confused about the very end of your statement there.

So when you leave, when your BCT leaves in a few weeks, you'll be -- you will not be backfilled by U.S. forces. And instead you'll have Iraqi security forces there. Is that what you're saying? Or can you talk a little bit more about that?...

COL. CARACCILO: There is not a BCT that's going to backfill us. So that's the short answer. A brigade combat team will not replace the 3rd Brigade Combat Team from the 101st.

To give a little more background on this, in July or June and July of this past year, there were three brigade combat teams operating in the southern belt -- the Madain qadha, Arab Jabour just to the east and then in this portion of the Mahmudiyah qadha. Now there are two brigade combat teams. When I leave with our brigade combat team, there will be one brigade combat team....

The -- this brigade consists of 4,000 soldiers, the 3rd Brigade of the 101st. When it leaves, it'll be two battalions, approximately 1,800 soldiers at the -- at the very most, U.S. forces. The Iraqi security forces we define as the Iraqi army plus the Iraqi police plus the Sons of Iraq. That's up of -- close to 30,000 Iraqi security forces that operate in this area.

So while the coalition force is drawing down exponentially the security forces have increased greatly. And so there are 30,000 Iraqi security forces standing guard at over almost 1,000 checkpoints and 23 patrol bases throughout our battle space....

Presently 12 of 18 provinces in Iraq are under Iraqi control. Tomorrow that number moves to 13.

So has the violence increased in areas where the U.S. has withdrawn our forces? This is an important question, because it goes to the heart of the "surge" strategy. The surge, if your not familiar, was to temporarily increase our presence in Iraq from 15 to 20 brigades. It was temporary because the Army and Marine Corps cannot sustain 20 brigades there. The idea was to use the extra forces to implement a true counterinsurgency stragegy, which we couldn't really do at 15 brigades (at 2006 levels of violence, anyway). But if the violence went up after we went back down to 15 brigades then they whole thing would be a failure. As a matter of note we have been back down to 15 brigades for several month, the surge having ended mid-2008.

Therefore, this next exchange is important:

Q Colonel, this is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. As you begin to shrink your presence in that area, what do you see are the risks of a revival of violence? And what are the, you know, possible things that could lead to that, things that have to be avoided that could result in a return of violence in your area?

COL. CARACCILO: Yeah, any time we turn over part of the battle space to the indigenous force, the force that lives here, the local population, there's always been a concern that the void that the -- that is perceived will be filled by something other than security.

There is such a large footprint of Iraqi security forces in this area that we don't see and we haven't experienced any return of violence in any form. We've already turned over 17 patrol bases, and tomorrow will be the 18th. And as of yet we have not seen any return of al Qaeda's stronghold, any kind of insurgency -- insurgent activity, because quite frankly the population controls that, and the population has decided that they're not going to have that in their neighborhood. So the Shi'a extremists that were once in Mahmudiyah or along the Jackson Corridor are no longer in this part of the country. Al Qaeda has all but been nullified and neutralized.

As always, you will benefit if you watch the entire briefing. However, there is one more thing that Caraccilo said that I want to discuss:

Q So would it be fair to say that even if there is a flare-up of violence, essentially you're going to be leaving that to the Iraqis to handle at this point?

COL. CARACCILO: I don't want to make it sound like the coalition is not involved in continuing to professionalize the Iraqi army. We have MiTT teams in place, Military Transition Teams, at the division, at the brigade level. They maintain their presence with the Iraqis. They continue to coach, teach and mentor. When an Iraqi division commander or brigade commander wants to have coalition forces with him to continue to train or continue to learn how to conduct operations, we're there.

And we lead from behind at this point, and we enable the Iraqis to be able to conduct their operations. We're not trying to make them look like a U.S. Army force. We're allowing them to work through their processes and to ensure that they can sustain themselves, because that's what's going to matter once, in fact, the coalition actually leaves.

This is straight out of the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (FM 3-24 is the guide for everything we've been doing in Iraq since early 2007. It was written in 2005-6 by a team led by then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. Essentially, he was then sent to Iraq to implement the strategy outlined in his book). A few quotes from FM 3-24 will make the point:

1-154 THE HOST NATION DOING SOMETHING TOLERABLY IS NORMALLY BETTER THAN US DOING IT WELL. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant US support....

6-11. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for U.S. forces is accepting that the host nation can ensure security using practices that differ from U.S. practices. Commanders must recognize and continuously address that this "The American way is best" bias is unhelpful

6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".

A-43. By mid-tour, U.S. forces should be working closely with local forces, training or supporting them and building an indigenous security capability. The natural tendency is to create forces in a U.S. image. This is a mistake. Instead, local HN forces need to mirror the enemy's capabilities and seek to supplant the insurgent's role.

So although this briefing did not lend itself to any big lesson or message to our presidential candidates it does help us understand what is going on in Iraq.

Posted by Tom at October 30, 2008 10:00 PM

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Thanks for keeping up with the Iraq briefings, Tom.

Posted by: Americaneocon at November 2, 2008 11:25 AM

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