U.S. Forces Plan Lower Profile
Shift Intended to Give Iraqis More Visibility After June 30
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2004; Page A15
TIKRIT, Iraq -- U.S. military commanders here are calling it Operation New Dawn.
Starting July 1, with the transfer of limited sovereignty to Iraqi authorities, military helicopters will switch to flying "friendly approaches" instead of menacing ones, U.S. soldiers will go on patrol only when accompanying Iraqi security forces, and any shooting of U.S. weapons meant to harass or interdict will require higher-level approval than before, military officers here said.
In Mosul, Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, who leads a brigade of armored Stryker vehicles and other forces, said he expected that his troops would assume a much lower profile.
"On July 1, what I want Iraqi people to say is: 'Where are the airplanes? Where are the Strykers?' " Ham said last week. "What they'll see instead will be Iraqi forces."
For U.S. troops in Iraq, the coming political change -- from occupying power to supporting partner -- is supposed to be accompanied by a major shift in military mission and tactics. While legally still authorized under a U.N. resolution to use "all necessary means" to ensure security in Iraq, U.S. commanders say they intend to reduce combat operations, concentrate on training and assisting Iraqi forces, and promote local governance and economic development.
U.S. and Iraqi officials acknowledged in interviews and in briefings to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz last week that their plan was sure to be complicated by two main factors.
First, many of the 215,000 members of Iraq's fledgling forces are far from ready to take over much of the security burden. And second, the deadly insurgency that emerged shortly after the U.S.-led invasion last year continues to bring fresh waves of violence, most recently a surge of assassinations and attacks on oil facilities.
Under such uncertain circumstances, U.S. military authorities are trying to show at least their willingness to step back and let Iraqi forces take the lead, but are hedging their bets by keeping U.S. troop levels at around 140,000 and girding for a gradual turnover of operational responsibility.
"If Americans are in danger, if there's a really bad person we've got to go after, it's the same old rules," Wolfowitz told reporters traveling with him, making clear that U.S. forces had no intention of withdrawing from the fight. "But we would like people to see that something has changed. In the first few weeks, a lot of the challenge is how to create some optics when the underlying substance hasn't changed that much."
At the headquarters here of the 1st Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. John Batiste and his staff showed Wolfowitz a timeline last week that charted two lines through February. One line, which fell gradually across the page, represented the U.S. military profile; the other, which rose steadily, represented the Iraqi security services.
The lines intersected in September, which is when Batiste said he estimates that Iraqi forces will be able to take full charge of combat operations and policing in the region. By January, when national elections are scheduled, he is counting on Iraqi forces to be completely responsible for securing voting facilities, he said.
Commanders here and at other bases throughout Iraq offered assurances last week that recently intensified efforts to train and equip the Iraqi forces were beginning to bear fruit. Vehicles, communications gear and other equipment for the new forces that had been in short supply have begun to flow in. Recruits are being better vetted. Authorities are placing greater emphasis on ensuring the quality of the forces rather than their quantity.
The commanders also provided accounts of insurgent cells being uncovered and broken up, of public works projects being advanced and of Iraqis coming forward with crucial tips about the location of roadside bombs.
"This is the theme of this briefing: Glass is half full, things are headed in the right direction," one senior commander told Wolfowitz.
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