12 May, 2008

MG Lynch, Part II: Security

"We're close to that."
- MG Rick Lynch, Commanding General, 3ID/MND-C

As outlined in Part I, the shift in security in 3ID's Area of Operations since they arrived has been startling. The biggest reason attacks are down to less than two per day is that there are simply fewer hardliners left to cause problems. In the last year, 3ID has killed or captured over 6,000 al Qaeda terrorists and insurgents in the AO, reports MG Lynch. But though attacks are down sharply, Lynch refers to the security situation as "tenuous" because the enemy is still capable of what he describes as isolated spectacular attacks such as lethal bombings.

However, Lynch does not see opposition forces as capable of coordinated and sustained action. "We’re at the point now where we believe there is no more than 100 AQ in our area…in isolated cells of 5 or 10 people," he reports. The situation is similar in regards to what he calls "Shia extremists." Though they number at an estimated 650, they are not connected and coordinated.

Some of the analysis of recent operations in Southern Iraq has described resistance as being comprised of largely criminal elements, despite whatever ideological affiliations such elements may claim. With that in mind, I asked MG Lynch how much of the attacks or unrest in his area was simply criminal activity. He again pointed to the remaining pockets of al Qaeda, but added that "Many Shia [insurgents] are purely motivated to criminal activity," and repeated a line I've heard him use before: "The best way to train for Iraq these days is to watch the 6th season of The Sopranos.

Another big factor in the improved security situation in 3ID's AO is the continuing development of Iraqis creating and maintaining their own security, of which Sons of Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces (army and police) are a significant part. MG Lynch described the SOI program as "maturing" and swelling to 40,000 participants. The SOI "provide sustainable security, which is defined as locals under positive control securing their community."

The development of Iraq Security Forces themselves has obviously pleased MG Lynch. "Great progress with ISF," he enthused, mentioning three patrol bases that are currently being transitioned to the control of Iraqi units. "It’s an amazing thing to me—the progress that is being made in the Iraqi Army."

Within the 3ID AO, the Iraqi Army is comprised of 14 brigade-size units that are near fully functional. "In the majority of cases, they are capable of planning and executing operations on their own," MG Lynch reported. "All they need is logistic or supply support. [There are] several provinces where they are fully in the lead, including Wasit and al Kut."

The big issue with ISF today is the police. This is one area that obviously concerns MG Lynch. "Not making a lot of progress improving the capability of police," he laments. Corruption/lack of professionalism is a huge problem with many Iraqi police units.

Part of the challenge comes down to a problem with availability of Coalition personnel. There are 96 Iraqi Police stations within 3ID's AO, but there are only 27 Police Transition Teams (civilian/military training and mentoring units). This leaves the vast majority of new Iraqi police units under-trained and unsupervised. With the Iraqi Army now taking the lead more and more, this is 3ID's current focus in the area of ISF development. When I spoke to MG Lynch last week, a reorganization and restructuring of the Military Transition Teams was underway in an attempt to--wherever possible--move qualified Americans from the MiTTs into the PiTTs.

Despite generally good security in the AO, what MG Lynch calls "continuing pressure on the enemy" remains an important part of 3ID's mission. For example, as part of Marne Piledriver, there are significant combat operations in Wasit Province and al Kut (two of the provinces where Iraqi Army units are in the lead). However, Lynch was quick to point out the ways in which combat and stabilization operations go hand-in-hand in counter-insurgency. "At the same time," he said, "you do what you can do to meet the needs of the populations." This includes building governing institutions and relationships, efforts in which he has reported "significant progress."

When I asked MG Lynch about relations between the various religious factions, he replied flatly, "No sectarian violence at all." He said many local councils have Sunni/Shia working together very effectively, a pattern that is also seen in the SOI units. He believes he sees the population coalescing around common bonds and fundamental desires: "People identifying themselves as Iraqi, not as members of a sect." He spoke of a focus among Iraqis--across a variety of backgrounds--on basic safety, good jobs, and the opportunity to improve their station. "I’m convinced more than ever that the people of Iraq want what you and I want," he said with conviction.

I also asked MG Lynch if he believes the AO has "turned a corner," that if current troop levels and Iraqi capabilities were unchanged there would be no going back to the violence and chaos of the past. He declined to use such language, but he is obviously optimistic. "We’re working towards irreversible momentum," he replied. "And we’re close to that."

In the final installment (tomorrow): economic development, transition and expected challenges for 3ID's MND-C replacements, and the burden of long and repeated deployments.