Expect fighting in Iraq for ‘a while’
A Hawaii-based general reports that insurgents are making bigger IEDs
The fight in northern Iraq will be "going on for a while" because of the insurgency there, predicts the Hawaii-based general who leads U.S. and Iraqi forces in the area.
Since August 2006, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who normally leads Schofield Barracks' 25th Infantry Division, has commanded the 23,000-member Multinational Division-North coalition force, which includes 7,000 soldiers from Schofield. He has also been in charge of 140,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers.
Mixon and his Schofield soldiers will leave Iraq by the end of the month.
"The key is going to be passing more and more responsibility over to the Iraqi security forces which is what we have been doing here," Mixon said yesterday in a telephone interview from Iraq.
"The No. 1 priority should be countering the IED (improvised explosive device) threat," he told the Star-Bulletin.
During the deployment that began in August 2006, 36 Schofield Barracks soldiers died. Mixon said homemade bombs account for 80 percent of the coalition's casualties.
"We have seen a steady increase in the number of IEDs the enemy has put out on the battlefield. This past month we had more IEDs put out there than the first month we served here. ... It is a major effort in the fight over here."
The insurgents are making them larger, Mixon added.
He said the bulk of the more than 7,000 Schofield soldiers -- the majority of them from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 25th Combat Aviation Brigade -- will start arriving home over the next few weeks.
To honor 25th Division soldiers killed in this deployment, Mixon said a memorial service will be held at Schofield Barracks on Dec. 12. In addition, a video display will be erected in the division headquarters' building showing pictures of the fallen soldiers, each with a short written tribute.
Mixon is preparing to turn over the command of the coalition forces to Maj. Gen. Hark Hertling, who leads the 1st Armored Division. He said his advice to Hertling will focus on giving more responsibility to the Iraqi army and police, and improving the local governments in the area. More than 11 million people live in Mixon's area of operations, which is about the size of Pennsylvania.
As 7,000 25th Infantry Division soldiers prepare to leave Iraq, another 4,000 under Mixon's Schofield command are getting ready to deploy for at least a year.
The 25th Division's 2nd Stryker Combat Brigade is scheduled to deploy to northern Iraq, an area Mixon described as "tough."
"They are going to face some pretty tough fighters, if you will," he said. "They will have a lot of responsibility in protecting the northern portion of Baghdad and not allowing the enemy to have any free space ... so they will have a very important area."