Amid successes, 42nd Infantry Div. set to turn over FOB Danger
BAGHDAD — Departing Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto painted an optimistic picture of U.S. Army accomplishments in north-central Iraq during a news conference in Baghdad on Friday.
Taluto and the division he commands, the 42nd Infantry Division, a group of National Guard units from nearly 30 states, plan to cede control of the area next month to the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“One thing we are certain of: Progress in every line of operation has been realized,” he said of the region, which includes the cities of Tikrit, Baqouba, Balad and the entrenched city of Samarra. “Real measurable progress has been made in the past year.”
Taluto, commanding general of Task Force Liberty, which includes the 42nd Infantry Division, voiced optimism about the future of the region. The area will fall to Task Force Band of Brothers, which will include the 101st Airborne.
Taluto pointed to the Task Force Liberty’s success in training local Iraqi forces in northern Iraq from a “very nascent, very immature group of Army forces,” to “a sustainable level.”
The area’s Shiite-dominated Iraqi forces, he said, are improving in training, size and capability. The region is now home to two Iraqi division headquarters, five brigades and 18 battalions.
“Nearly half of our operations in [the area] are led or being handled by Iraqi forces,” he said.
Forward Operating Base Danger, the site of Saddam Hussein’s palace in Tikrit, will be turned over to the Iraqi government by the end of November, a senior U.S. military official said Friday.
Taluto said U.S. forces have begun withdrawing from the base, which has housed the 4th Infantry Division and 1st Armored Division.
U.S. forces have already turned over 10 of the 27 FOBs in north central Iraq, he said.
The transfer of FOB Danger will be to the central government, who will decide if the site should remain a military base. The palace, located about 90 miles north of Baghdad, was known as Camp Ironhorse when the 4th Infantry Division occupied the site.
Taluto said he sees prospects for closing more of the FOBs next year if the December elections go smoothly.
He also added that the “prospects are good” for a U.S. force reduction in that region next year, saying Iraqi security forces have taken a larger role in operations in the area.
The main obstacle facing those Iraqi forces now, he said, is problems with the supplies of equipment and replacement parts. Those logistical and sustainability issues will be a major focus for U.S. trainers in coming months.
Taluto also cited improvements in fighting insurgents in the 42nd Infantry’s area, noting that the region has seen a growing schism between foreign insurgents and local fighters.
“We do a lot to neutralize the insurgency,” he said. “Every single day we kill bad guys or we arrest people or we find munitions and defeat what they are trying to do.”
Taluto charged the leaders of Task Force Band of Brothers with improving “the readiness to get those Iraqi Security Forces to a point where they can be considered for assuming operational space.”
He also pointed to continuing problems in Samarra.
“I don’t think Samarra is going to be ready anytime soon,” he said. “There’s so much tribal conflict, corruption and crime ... the people in Samarra are a very intimidated group ... that stuff needs to be sorted out.”
He also appeared optimistic that Iraqi forces could take the lead in the area, allowing U.S. forces to decrease their presence, though he did not specify how long it would take for the process to occur.
“I think the prospects are very good for coalition presence becoming less,” he said.
Stripes reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report from Washington.