More than 300 Florida National Guard aviators kissed their families goodbye earlier this week — then left for training — to be followed by a year deployment in support of missions in Iraq.
You might be thinking: weren’t US forces supposed to be heading in the other direction — away from Iraq — by the end of the year? That drawdown is true — of US ground troops. But, Air Force missions will likely increase for tactical airlifts, surveillance, and reconnaissance according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Russell Handy – commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force and director of the Air Component Coordination Element in Iraq.
Brigadier General C. Q. Brown is the Deputy Director of Operations at U.S. Central Command which oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He briefed me last week at the CENTCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base on what to expect in the coming months. Here’s a transcript of our discussion.
BOBBIE O’BRIEN: What can we expect in the coming months as the U.S. military transitions out of Iraq?
BRIG. GEN. C.Q. BROWN: We had 165,000 troops in Iraq roughly about a year ago we started Operation New Dawn. With that transition, we’re now down to about under 50,000 and going to zero in accordance with that security agreement and that will be done by the end of December.
BOBBIE O’BRIEN: Zero, but those are combat troops, what about training troops?
CQB: It’ll go to zero, but all that right now as you’re probably aware in the press the Iraqi government has come to the U.S. government and started those negotiations. And so, we’re going to zero in accordance to the security agreement because that’s what’s in place right now. I can’t really speak to what will happen after that.
BOB: You’re planning for zero, but you’re also aware of negotiations that are going on to possibly keep a force behind?
CQB: That’s really up to the government of Iraq and the U.S. government to determine what that will be.
BOB: Tactically how do you plan for something zero or 10,000 20,000?
CQB: I’d say we in the military are good at planning. That’s part of our goal is to be able to respond and so we will spend a period of time taking a look at getting ourselves to zero. For any military operation, we have to plan for any type of contingency. Our plan right now is zero, but we’ll continue to plan in case something changes depending on the outcome of the negotiations.
BOB: Step me through the transition. What will Iraq look like after Dec. 31st?
CQB: Part of this whole transition is to provide a long-term relationship with Iraq between the U.S. government and the government of Iraq. And the other piece of the transition that goes from kind of a military led U.S. Forces Iraq to a State Department led relationship. It’s a – kind of a whole government approach. So, it’s not just looking at security – security is an important part of that – but you also look at education, commerce, infra-structure and that’s where the Dept. of State and its expertise and other parts of the government come into play.
BOB: Without U.S. Troops there though, theoretically, who protects the State Department?
CQB: With the State Department, they have their own security apparatus to support them, but you also look at the great work that’s been done within Iraqi security force. It’s no small number when you take a look at it. There’s over 300,000 police, over 190,000 in the army, about 5,000 in the navy and air force.
BOB: You’re Air Force. Give me scenario – how many air force bases are there still under U.S. command in Iraq?
CQB: Let me talk just talk in general about bases in general. Right now there’s about 50 locations in Iraq where we have bases. We’ve gone from about 500 a couple of years ago down to about 50 a big transition in that regard.
BOB: Should the number come down to zero, there’s a huge concern about the north number one with the Kurds, but also too issues with Iran. What kind of tactical response – if we’re down to zero – are we prepared to go back in or are they capable?
CQB: We have worked really hard with the Iraqis and very closely with the Iraqis to build up their own security internally to the country. And so, I do believe they have the capability and we will continue that long-term relationship to provide them really – it’s what they request.
BOB: Describe to me then the impact where we had the 90 deaths (of Iraqis) in one day – 48 coordinated attacks. What does that tell you as a military member?
CQB: Well, it does tell me that there’s still a threat there and there’s concern for security. But, if you look historically over time particularly over the past five or six years, we’ve seen the number of violent attacks actually go down. To me, that tells me there’s progress. Are we completely out of the woods where you can go and walk and it will be zero? That’s not the case.
BOB: Is there concern that there could be civil war?
CQB: I’d be probably speaking out of turn to kind of characterize civil war. But I do – actually – the way I would describe it is there’s great progress in Iraq and I think the Iraqis, our service members that have served can be very proud of their accomplishments to get us to that vision of that long-term relationship and a stable and sovereign Iraq.
BOB: Will it look like a Korea? Will it look like Germany? Will it look like Italy – you were – the U.S. still has bases in Italy.
CQB: I don’t know how will play out and it’s really – the real decision on that will be left to Iraq to help determine that.
BOB: What is the drop-dead date that the military would have to know there maybe has been a request by Iraq to keep troops – so that you don’t have to then end up bringing people back in?
CQB: There’s not a publicized drop-dead date – sooner rather than later is better for us because it just makes it easier, just like you described.
Filed under: Air Force, Deployment, Marines, National Guard, U.S. Army | Tagged: Brig. Gen. C.Q. Brown, Florida Air National Guard, Florida Army National Guard, Iraq War, Iraqi security forces, MacDill Air Force Base, Operation New Dawn, postaday2011, United States armed forces |