3rd ID leaders ready for New Dawn

col_charles_sexton_1.jpgBy Denise Etheridge
Army commanders say Iraqis are ready for Operation New Dawn, a mission of support and sustainment that begins today. The U.S. military has officially ended combat operations and handed the reins over to the Iraqis.
“It’s a natural process as opposed to a line on a calendar,” said Col. Charles Sexton, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team commander. “Every day, every month, every year (since 2004) Iraqi security capabilities have grown.”
Sexton and 2nd Brigade deputy commander Col. Bryan Luke spoke long distance with the Coastal Courier late last week.
The 2nd HBCT is deployed to the northern Iraqi province of Ninewah.
In addition to building relationships with diverse religious groups, such as Shia and Sunni Muslims and Chaldean and Assyrian Christians, American soldiers have partnered with both Iraqis and Kurds. Progress has been made, they said; more people on the street are cooperating with Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. service members.
“Our tips are up since we’ve been here,” Luke said.
“The Iraqis have been in the lead here. People are talking to them. We have a tip line and that thing has been buzzing all the time.”
Luke and Sexton said this type of cooperation has helped diminish acts of violence. Northern Iraq has not experienced the same level of violent incidents as has other areas in Iraq, they said.
Luke said violent incidents in Ninewah have been down 70 percent since June 30, 2009, when the Iraqis “took the lead.”
Also, the drawdown has not significantly impacted the Iraqis’ ability to provide security, Luke said.
“We were about 6,000 soldiers in Ninewah for the last six years,” Luke said. “We’ve gone down a little over half of that right now. The Iraqis have 60,000 here.”
He added the Iraqis are apprehensive about the drawdown, but says that is human nature.
“I think the Iraqis are concerned about it, they don’t know what the future will hold,” Luke said. “But there hasn’t been a decline in security.”
The biggest change with the drawdown is American forces will no longer act unilaterally, the colonel said.
However, should insurgents attack U.S. soldiers have the right defend themselves, Luke said.
“Iraq is still a dangerous place,” he said. “Will we take casualties? I hope not. But we’ll be ready to defend ourselves. We always have the right for force protection.”
He stressed any counter force operations would be coordinated with the Iraqis.
Sexton and Luke said the Iraqis have improved with American assistance in a number of areas, such as explosive ordinance expertise, use of military working dogs and intelligence and reconnaissance.
“Seventy-five percent of the IEDs that are diffused right now are handled by the Iraqis,” Luke said.
Despite strides that have been made, the Iraqi Army still needs U.S. assistance to improve specific areas, such as training its officers and NCOs’ in leadership skills and professionalism, Sexton said.
“They need help at the higher levels,” Luke added. “In command and control, organizing an army…”
Sexton said American forces are committed to providing support to the Iraqis through late 2011, early 2012.
The 2nd Brigade is due to redeploy in about 30 days