General sees gains in Iraq


POSTED: Thursday, July 30, 2009

Iraq soon will face hard questions on whether its own army and police force will be able to deal with problems in the region, says the Schofield Barracks general who relinquishes command of troops in northern Iraq this fall.

In a telephone interview from his headquarters in Tikrit, Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, who normally commands the 25th Infantry Division in Wahiawa, yesterday singled out Iran as a potential problem. Caslen did not elaborate, but it is known that Iran continues to seek influence within Iraq, with whom it fought an eight-year war in the 1980s.

However, Caslen believes that Iraqi security forces are becoming more competent and capable.

“;What we are seeing,”; Caslen added, “;is they are getting better and stronger every day, and they now do have responsibilities for the cities. They are doing a commendable job.”;

Since November, Caslen has led Multi-National Division North, also known as Task Force Lighting, which operates from Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit in northern Iraq. The two-star general is responsible for an area the size of Ohio. The area includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra.

He commands 20,000 soldiers assigned to six brigades from Hawaii, Alaska, Texas and New York. Caslen took 1,000 soldiers from his 25th Division headquarters and an additional 3,500 from his 3rd Brigade Combat Team to Iraq last year. The Schofield Barracks brigade is within two months of coming home. For the 3rd Brigade, it is the third combat deployment and the second one to Iraq.

Caslen will turn over the command of Task Force Lightning to Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, who heads the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., in November.





        As head of the Multi-National Division North, Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen commands 20,000 soldiers. The major units in his command are:

» 3rd Brigade Combat Team from the 25th Infantry Division, in Salah ad Din Province, including the cities of Tikrit, Bayji, Samarra, and Balad


» 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team from the 25th Infantry Division in Alaska, in Diyala Province, including the cities of Baqubah and Muqdadiyah


» 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team from 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, in Kirkuk Province, including the cities of Kirkuk and Hawijah


» 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team from 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, in Ninewa Province, including the Mosul and Tal Afar


» 10th Combat Aviation Brigade from the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y.


» 130th Engineer Brigade from Schofield Barracks


Source: 25th Infantry Division




The problem facing Iraqi leaders, Caslen said, “;is settling the country's ethnic differences peacefully because, if it doesn't, it will evolve into lethal conflict. That would be terrible for all that has been invested into this country.”;

Finally, unresolved is the U.S. role beyond 2011, Caslen said.

Between March and August 2010, all combat troops will have to be withdrawn from Iraq. There are 130,000 U.S. troops there now. That number will dropped to a “;residual force”; of 50,000 by the end of next summer. Under an pact with the Iraqis, all American troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

For numerous reasons, especially because of Iraq's geographical location, Caslen said “;it would be critically important that the United States maintain a strong strategic relationship with Iraq.”;

Caslen acknowledged that one of the continuing threats to Iraq and the stability of the country is “;the Kurd-Arab tensions that could result in armed conflict.”;

As the soldiers of his 3rd “;Bronco”; Brigade, led by Col. Walter Piatt, begin their last 60 days in Iraq, Caslen said the unit's performance has been “;phenomenal.”;

He pointed out the brigade was assigned to Salah ad Din Province, which for the most part is Sunni and the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

“;It was one of the most dangerous and lethal provinces,”; Caslen added. “;It is now one of our most stable provinces and one of the best prospects for peace and economic prosperity.”;