First off, it’s great to be back in the US. After nearly three years of deployed time in Iraq, I’m fairly confident this was my last trip there. Obviously, after devoting the better part of my 20’s to either prepping for a deployment, or actually deployed, I have a fairly vested interest in Iraq; and also the American perception of our efforts in Iraq. Over the last week, there has been a tremendous amount of coverage regarding the formal end of combat operations in Iraq yesterday, 31 August. Yesterday Operation Iraqi Freedom ended and today brought the first day of Operation New Dawn and a new USFI Commanding General. Having worked extensively with the Diyala Provincial Reconstruction Team, I gained a solid and comprehensive understanding of the way ahead in Iraq. For the most part, I am a fan; it’s not perfect but I am just happy the State Department is finally taking the lead in Iraq.
Back to the topic at hand, the major headline in the news has been the end of formal combat operations and a transition to Stability Ops today (here, here and here). The reality though is that we really transitioned to stability ops as a force preemptively in December 2008 when conventional forces were bound to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). After SOFA, our ability to execute offensive operations was severely hampered by the Iraqi Security Forces, and pretty much the entire Government of Iraq (GoI). The post-SOFA reality for US Forces is that it has become more dangerous to operate with each passing day as our intelligence assets are pulled further away from its most important asset, the host nation population. Without good Human Intelligence the rest of our “int’s” become weaker and our ground forces suffer exponentially.
The other significant news last week was 4-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s execution of the last “combat patrol” in Iraq, which in all reality was a ground movement of their Strykers to Kuwait for movement back to the States. 4-2 SBCT was the last Brigade Combat Team in Iraq; now all that’s left are Advise and Assist Brigades. I love a good re-branding. A bunch of extra Field Grade Officers added to a Brigade Combat Team does not significantly alter the fact that these Brigades are still combat formations.
The reality: next week will be the same as last week for those living and serving in Iraq. There is still a lot of work to be done in Iraq. There is a significant ongoing SOF counter-terror mission that should not cease any time soon; evidence can be seen here. A new Iraqi government is nowhere in sight. Corruption and graft continue to plague the country. There is work to be done but we need a willing partner moving ahead, something that has been missing in Iraq for a long time.