Explore the rebirth of New Orleans.
STEVE HEBERT-POLARIS FOR USN&WR
Iraqi soldiers in a training exercise face challenges in an obstacle course.
Posted Sunday, August 28, 2006
BALAD, IRAQ-One little-known aspect of the U.S. military operation in Iraq is that it involves the largest ongoing deployment of special operations forces since Vietnam. A total of 3,768 Special Forces,Navy SEALs, and Air Force combat controllers are scattered across the critical Euphrates and Tigris river valleys, from the Syrian border to Hilla and Kut in the south. They are partnered with one third of the Iraqi Army battalions and 13 SWAT-type police units. Speaking to U.S. News at his headquarters in Balad, Kenneth Tovo, the colonel in charge of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula, said his troops are using their specialized skills to complement the U.S. conventional forces' training in two ways. "One, they are working with battalion staffs to integrate intelligence and operations and teach them how to target," he said. "Two, they are training scout platoons to find and fix the enemy." Once the platoons are trained, the Americans advise them in combat. Navy SEAL teams who are partnered with Iraqi forces in Anbar province have seen intensive combat, as have the Americans advising the Baghdad-based Iraqi special ops forces.
Colonel Tovo emphasizes that surgical force must be combined with other methods. In the restive west, his teams woo Sunni tribal chiefs and have persuaded some to send recruits to the police and army. "This task force understands that we cannot kill our way to victory," he told U.S. News. "That said, we live in the security side of the house. We are building Iraqi security force capacity and using that to attack insurgents." This year, Iraqi units with special ops advisers detained 2,065 selected targets, including 460 high- and mid-value ones, killed 222 enemy combatants, and wounded 92. Perhaps a more important measure of their success is that, thanks to their careful targeting and preparation of evidence packets, 70 percent of those captured remain in detention and 85 percent of those who made it to trial were convicted, compared with 40 and 50 percent for other units.
The Opel gang. Even though Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul, is still plagued by some 14 attacks a week, it is seen as a successful model of the training effort. The lone 12-man U.S. Special Forces team forged a good relationship with the 172nd Stryker Brigade, which has now been sent to Baghdad to help quell the violence there. Lt. Col. Charles Webster, one of the Stryker battalion commanders who invited the special forces to join his planning meetings, recalled how they helped shut down a group he called the "Opel gang," which was plaguing the city with car bombs. "One of them said, 'Sir, they meet here, pick up the cars at this point, drop them off there,' and pointed out the locations on the map," Webster said.
Perhaps their most important breakthrough was getting Mosul's largely Sunni police force to work with the Kurdish Army brigade that secures the east half of the city. After a suicide bomber hit the Army unit one day in July, the police responded-before the U.S. soldiers even learned of the attack. "They were fighting each other just two years ago," says one of Webster's company commanders. The Special Forces master sergeant praised the young officer's diplomatic skill. "He played them like a fiddle," he said.
Explore the rebirth of New Orleans.