Marines in Iraq Expanding Adviser Teams

The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 10:47 AM

WASHINGTON -- A step ahead of his Pentagon bosses, a colonel in Iraq's troubled Anbar province is moving Marines out of combat slots to expand U.S. teams advising Iraqi army units.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon by videoconference from his headquarters in the city of Fallujah, Col. Lawrence D. Nicholson said Friday the teams have been doubled in size and he has proposed doubling them yet again.

"We think that is clearly the way ahead," he said, adding that the Iraqis have proven themselves to be good "mimics," emulating the tactics and procedures used by the Americans to be more effective against insurgents.

The top U.S. commander for the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that he was recommending expanding the size of U.S. adviser teams across Iraq, but no decision had been made.

The advisers, who undergo specialized training in the United States, are placed in Iraq army and police units to coach Iraqis on how to plan and execute combat missions, and to deter corruption and other abuses.

Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was not sure whether an expansion of the adviser mission could be accomplished without increasing somewhat the total number of Marines and soldiers in Iraq.

Nicholson, commander of Regimental Combat Team 5, responsible for a swath of Anbar province that includes the city of Fallujah, said he has managed to expand his adviser teams without increasing the size of his force. He has done that by moving Marines out of combat positions.

"My principal mission is Iraqi security force development, and I can best do that by working more closely with them every day," he said.

Nicholson said U.S. adviser teams that are placed inside Iraqi battalions have been increased from 10 Marines to 20, and those working with larger Iraqi units have been increased to 30 Marines.

© 2006 The Associated Press