As Iraq combat operations end, US forces try to cement gains
While Iraq combat operations are over, the 50,000 remaining US soldiers in Iraq are looking to cement their achievements by sending out small groups of advisers to help improve Iraqi Army performance.
The shrinking US military footprint here is particularly evident in this community south of Baghdad, where a few dozen American soldiers live among 1,000 Iraqi troops in an area crucial to Baghdad's security.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“They used to call this the triangle of death,” points out Maj. Gen. Ali Jassim al-Fraiji, saying major attacks had dropped from three or four a day four years ago to about that many a month.
The general, commander of the Iraqi Army’s 17th Division, was speaking this week at a tactical operations center where Iraqi soldiers, police, and emergency personnel viewed a live American aerial surveillance feed.
The improvement in security is indisputable but by most accounts fragile. The area is part of the Baghdad belt surrounding the capitol and a main route for weapons and fighters coming from Iran and the south of Iraq.
During the military surge three years ago, more than a thousand US soldiers partnered with Iraqi fighters who had turned against Al Qaeda and fought for every mile of territory here. As American forces do what they can with far fewer numbers, there is a clear sense of the clock ticking toward the close of the entire US mission at the end of next year.
“We are clearly trying to take advantage of what is now 16 months remaining,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffery Snow, who is in charge of training the Iraqi Army, in an interview on the sidelines of a ceremony on Wednesday marking the end of the US combat mission. President Obama’s Sept. 1 deadline for the last combat brigade to be out of Iraq leaves 50,000 US forces here until the end of next year.
As part of that smaller presence, Col. Roger Cloutier, commander of the 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division has spread small groups of advisers throughout six Iraqi Army divisions in and around Baghdad.