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Fort Bliss soldiers to train Iraqi forces
[May 03, 2009]

Fort Bliss soldiers to train Iraqi forces

FORT BLISS, May 03, 2009 (El Paso Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Pfc. Thomas Croft would be more comfortable rolling through Iraq in an Abrams tank.

The soldier isn't belligerent or looking for a fight. It's simply that loading tank guns is his job.

But in a few days, when his boots hit the southern Iraq sand, he and about 4,000 other Fort Bliss soldiers in the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division will be among the first U.S. troops in that country trained for a radically different type of mission.

Operating mostly from Humvees and the heavily armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles, the soldiers will be observing Iraqi security forces who are now in the lead on most missions so they can make suggestions and provide guidance. They no longer will lead the fight against insurgents.

In the recent past, these soldiers would have been conducting combat patrols, searching buildings for weapons and raiding insurgent hideouts.

"How to run a combat patrol, that's not part of our job anymore," said brigade commander Col. Peter Newell, who deployed Saturday. The new mission "is exceptionally complicated when you start to work through all the details." About 1,300 4-1 Armored soldiers are deploying this weekend, and most of the rest will leave Fort Bliss by the end of this week. They are scheduled for a 12-month tour of duty.

The soldiers will be inserted into Iraqi security force and provincial reconstruction teams. That means they will be spread over a much larger area -- the provinces of Dhi Qar, Maysan and al-Muthanna -- than combat units have been covering.

The soldiers will advise their Iraqi counterparts on tasks such as collecting intelligence, obtaining search warrants and preserving evidence at a crime scene so it will hold up in court. Newell doesn't call it nation building, but he doesn't deny that his soldiers' work is meant to create conditions that will allow Iraqis to rebuild their country under a democratic government.

And when it comes to the best way to conduct this type of mission, the 4-1 Armored is pretty much on its own.

"There is no doctrine written," Newell said, referring to Army procedures setting out the number of people, the occupational specialties and the type of equipment required for a particular type of mission. "It's a natural evolution of what's happening in Iraq." Even if the unit you are replacing was successful, you can't simply copy its technique, Newell said. "You have to be able to think forward," he said. "I need to be able to modify what he's doing to go that much further." And his soldiers must avoid the temptation to jump in and solve problems on their own terms, Newell added.

"They've (Iraqis) got their own '10 most wanted,' and it's good if we're coming up with the same names," he said. "But that can be frustrating if you don't have the same view of a problem. e You can't assume a persona of arrogance just because it's a fledgling government." Croft, the 26-year-old tanker, is on his first deployment. He said he understands the mission.

"It's supposed to be doing training of Iraqi soldiers and going out on missions on their terms," he said. When pressed, he admits, "I would rather be rolling in a tank." It is a sign of progress in Iraq, Newell said, that he doesn't anticipate a need for the armored unit's powerfully destructive Abrams tanks. "If there were a problem," he added, "we will be ready and certainly we would support the Iraqi forces." Violence has been declining in those southern provinces, Newell said, but the struggle for power continues.

"It's mainly a Shia population," Newell said, referring to one of Iraq's religious groups. "Our current concerns are more in terms of political strains in those parties that are trying to control the provinces' political processes. e I don't think anybody should be surprised to see some political violence." Chris Roberts may be reached at;546-6136.

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