Mar 11, 2008
Update - The Baghdad Belts - Gen Rick Lynch
Gen Rick Lynch is the Commanding General of Task Force Marne; 3rd Infantry Division. Responsible for the large, predominately agricultural area south of Baghdad, Gen Lynch took time yesterday to talk to The Military Observer and several other reporters about Task Force Marne’s efforts:
GEN. LYNCH: Let me give you an update on how things are going at MND Central. We're now averaging less than two attacks a day. Remember, a year ago when we got here we were averaging 25 attacks a day. The last couple of days we had no attacks. We averaged less than two the entire month of February. Civilian causalities are down by about 75 % and coalition casualties are down by 80 percent. So what's happening now is the conversation is changed.
As I'm out and about, I land at a patrol base and I get out of the helicopter, either do a dismounted or a mounted patrol to the downtown area and I meet with the locals and the conversation's no longer about security -- at least in my area: the southern belts of Baghdad and the southern provinces. The conversation's all about jobs; it's all about services; it's all about a sustainable, economic development.
So it's significant progress that we've made over the course of the year that we've been here, but it's a tenuous situation; that's the point we make all the time. That the surge came in and it gave us the combat power to take the fire to the enemy. We've killed or captured about 6,000 over the last 12 months that we've been here. We've established 54 patrol bases. So 75% of my soldiers live with the Iraqi people. And when we set these patrol bases, the Iraqi people come forward and ask: Are you staying? And when the answer is yes, they ask: How can we help?
So we now have about 40,000 concerned local citizens in our area that are providing security. And we have defined sustainable security as locals under positive control securing their communities and that's what's happening here now. So we've had a significant impact on Sunni extremism in our area. Operations that are going on now are focused on Shi'a extremism, as we work our way out towards Wasat province down the Tigris River valley.
So operations continue. We continue to focus on the transition from security to stability. Security is really numbers of attacks. I talked about that. Stability is sustainable security and sustainable economic development. So I'm really finding myself focused a lot on non-lethal lines of operation. I know more about fish farming and dairy farming and poultry farming and
agriculture than I ever did, but they’re the things that I'm focused on now to create jobs and sustainable economic development here in MNDC's area.
Q – Soldiers are trained to fight, and take objectives. Can you comment on how the missions of your soldiers have changed over the course of the last year?
GEN. LYNCH: Well, that's a great question. We've an amazing Army these days. It's an experienced-based army. And I'll use captains as an example. The captains that I have currently commanding companies were here as lieutenant platoon leaders, were here as junior captains on somebody's staff, and now they're back here as senior captains, as company commanders. They're well grounded in combat operations.
We were doing nothing but kinetic operations for about the first seven months we were here. Once it transitioned, I told them, okay, but that's not the main effort now. We can focus on nonlethal. They have the amazing capability to worry about schools and worry about services and do engagements. And they truly have become ambassadors at all levels.
Now, I contend that's primarily because we are an experienced- based army. We've all been down these roads before. We've seen what we need to do to transition from security to stability. The soldiers, candidly, they like it. I know we as a division will make our reenlistment objectives for fiscal year '08 by the first of April -- that's six months early -- six months early – because these soldiers know they're part of a winning team. They feel very good about the progress that they're making here in Iraq. They're focused on completing the mission.
I am indeed very proud of them.
You know, I mentioned early on that, you know, I'm a graduate from West Point, I've got a master's degree from MIT, I've got 30 years in the military, but I never knew anything about fish farming or dairy farming until I've got here. But we've got such a resilient army, we pick up these skill sets and then we apply it to the task at hand.
Q - It seems that what the Sons of Iraq are complaining about more than anything is -- other than the point about getting in a firefight with some U.S. forces -- is frustration with the Iraqi government and how slowly they're moving. I wonder if you could address that. And secondly, another thing that they mentioned in this article is the possibility of AQI infiltrating the Sons of Iraq. Maybe walk us through the vetting process for the Sons of Iraq.
GEN. LYNCH: Both great questions. I'll take the last one first:
Every time we get these guys that come forward -- and I'll just use the current fight: We're doing Marne Rugged, which is south of the Tigris River. We're attacking from west to east at the town of Suwayra. And as we work our way from west to east, we establish these patrol bases, and the first thing that happens is the locals come forward and say hey, I want to help. So we've got a very detailed vetting process.
First off, they're vouched for by their tribal leadership. The Sons of Iraq is tribal-based; tribal authority here is paramount, so the tribal leadership comes forward and vouches for them. That's number one. Number two is we put them into our database. We have this biometric database. We take thumbprints and fingerprints and their retinal scans, to make sure they don't show up hot in our database. And then we just watch them all the time.
My rule is we don't have concerned citizens where we can't watch them.
You know, we give them badges, we give them uniforms, and we check on them on a daily basis. And I do have a priority intelligence requirement that is focused on Sons of Iraq flipping or being infiltrated by either Shi'a extremists or Sunni extremists.
Remember, about 20 percent of my Sons of Iraq are Shi'a, and not Sunni. So we're watching for that very closely, because that is a concern. I haven't seen that, you know, over the course of the last eight months, but that doesn't mean that it won't pop up tomorrow. And then to your first question, you know, there is progress. And about a third of these bubbas want to join the Iraq security forces. They're interested in doing that and they meet the age and physical requirements. And in some cases, now, I've actually taken Sons of Iraq, been vetted by the Iraqi government and sent to Iraq police academies and have come back to be policemen in their hometowns.
And that has, indeed, been happening. It's not happening nearly as quickly as we'd like. You know, we process all these lists of people who want to be Iraqi army or Iraq police, and some of them, for whatever reason, get pulled off the list by the Iraqi government. But there are signs of progress; it's just not nearly as quickly as we'd like it to have happened.
Q - Part of basic services nowadays is education and schooling. Can you talk about your Soldiers role in re-opening the schools and being involved in the educational system ?
A - We have about 26 million Iraqis, and on any given day maybe 10,000 insurgents, but the rest are all just good people and they want to be able to send their kids to school.
So we've kind of perfected this, Andrew, like going out now to secure Safiyah. As soon as we're out there and we establish the patrol base, high on our list of things to fix are the schools, because you've got to get the kids back into school. It makes the parents comfortable; it makes the kids comfortable.
So we've figured out pretty much the TTP on how to rebuild the school,
how to engage with the Ministry of Education to make sure that the school gets the right supplies and the right staffing, and then we continue to mature this. But as I think through what's most important as we transition from security to stability, schools are close to the top of the list. And we're doing that with great effect. We built probably -- in the year we've been here, we've probably rebuilt 40 schools or so. And we find that the teachers are there.
The teachers were not employed because of the conditions at school or the security situation. And now that we've worked through all that, the teachers are back to work and the kids are back in school.
Q Are you getting the necessary support from the Ministry of Education?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, we are. Yeah, that's, candidly, probably the least of my worries. I don't struggle a lot with getting the teachers that have been accredited by the ministry back in the school systems.
You know, yesterday or the day before, I was in Ad Diwaniyah. I walked through the new school that we're building that's going to be done in a couple of weeks. The teachers are already on standby, the Ministry of Education's already agreed to re-supply them, and they'll put the teachers back in. So that's working pretty well.
The Military Observer thanks Gen Rick Lynch //