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StarBulletin.com

Schofield troops adapt to new role


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POSTED: Sunday, March 08, 2009

Schofield Barracks soldiers are adapting “;extremely well”; to their new role as advisers in Iraq, says their commander.

A new security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq does not “;allow us to do unilateral operations,”; said Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen — commander of the 25th Infantry Division as well as the Tikrit-based Multi-National Division-North, also known as Task Force Lightning. Under the agreement, which took effect at the beginning of the year, Iraq is responsible for its own affairs. Iraqi military commanders plan and conduct security operations, and U.S. commanders must coordinate activities through Iraqi headquarters.

“;What we are doing now is that we are sitting down together in command posts that are combined, share the same information and situation awareness, conduct joint planning sessions and execute the missions together,”; Caslen told the Star-Bulletin in a phone interview.

“;Every Iraqi military and police unit in our sector is partnered with an United States element.”;

As Task Force Lightning commander, Caslen is responsible for an area which includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra.

Besides the 3rd Brigade Combat Team from the 25th Infantry Division, Caslen also commands soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright in Alaska; 3rd Infantry Brigade 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, from Fort Hood in Texas; and the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Drum in New York.

Caslen took 1,000 soldiers from his headquarters and another 3,500 from his 3rd Brigade Combat Team to Iraq in November. For the 3rd Brigade, it is the third combat deployment and the second one to Iraq.

Caslen said that President Barack Obama's troop withdrawal timetable is “;very feasible.”;

President Obama last month announced that most U.S. troops will be pulled out of Iraq by August 2010, with 35,000 to 50,000 remaining to train and assist Iraqis through 2011.

Caslen said during that period U.S. forces should overcome two major challenges facing the U.S. — “;ultimate defeat”; of the remaining elements of the insurgency and helping the Iraqis resolve their sectarian differences peacefully at the conference table.

Caslen described the insurgency in northern Iraq — centered mostly in Mosul — as similar to a cancer.

“;It either has to be cut away and removed,”; the two star general added, “;or it will continue to grow and cause some significant harm later on.”;

The current role and mission of U.S. forces “;puts them on the path,”; Caslen added, to accomplish the task of containing the insurgency after the U.S. departs.

“;They (Iraqi security forces) will be able to effectively deal with the insurgencies as they arise in this country and be able to eliminate them or contain them.”;

As for the ethnic strife between the Kurds and Arabs, Caslen said, the U.S. is now trying to resolve issues at all levels.

“;It's taking a lot of our energy to do that, but I think (what) we are doing is building the institutions so that Iraq can learn to resolve some these issues ... and to put them on the table.”;

Caslen said he met with the commanders and soldiers of his 2nd Stryker Combat Brigade Team while they were in the Baghdad area and not under his command several times before they returned home last month after a 15-month tour.

“;That is one outstanding brigade. They have a lot that they can be proud of for the contributions they have given to this country.”;

In October, Caslen's 25th Combat Aviation Brigade will be sent to Iraq and will be under his command for a month or so before Caslen and his headquarters element returns to Schofield Barracks.