FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – For once, troops got to come home early.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division deployed to Iraq in fall 2007 on a 15-month rotation. But with security improvements in Iraq, commanders decided the brigade could come home before Thanksgiving, six weeks ahead of schedule.

During its deployment to northwest Baghdad, attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqis dropped from about nine a day to about two, said brigade spokesman Maj. Frank Garcia.

He said the drop in violence was due in large part to the brigade’s close partnership with “Sons of Iraq” – mostly former Sunni insurgents now allied with the U.S. military against al Qaida – and regular Iraqi troops and police.

One of the brigade’s major accomplishments was helping to incorporate a large number of the “Sons of Iraq” into the Iraqi police, he said.

The Shiite Iraqi government has been reluctant to bring armed Sunnis into the Iraqi security forces. But the brigade was able to convince officials they could help the police force, Garcia said.

“We did all we could to ensure that the Iraqi security forces and those in leadership positions – the decisions makers – knew that the ‘Sons of Iraq’ that we had been working with had been doing extremely well,” he said.

As the brigade departed Iraq, about 870 of the roughly 2,000 “Sons of Iraq” in the unit’s area of responsibility had joined the Iraqi police, Garcia said.

The brigade also had success with establishing joint security stations in neighborhoods where they had not done a lot of patrolling before, such as the Shiite area of Shula.

The move into Shula also proved to be a key development in boosting the Iraqi security forces’ confidence, he said.

“They were celebrating their successes after that mission,” Garcia said. “It was really neat to see the pride they exhibited and the results that they had.”

When the 2nd and 1st Brigade Combat Teams of the 101st Airborne Division complete their redeployment, the number of brigade combat teams in Iraq will drop from 15 to 14, according to the Army.

But it is unclear how withdrawing U.S. troops will affect Iraq’s internal problems, said Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think-tank in Washington. Tensions between Kurds and Arabs, internal Shiite power struggles, and Iranian influence in Iraq could all still pose challenges.

Having more U.S. troops in Iraq gives commanders the flexibility to respond if something goes wrong, Cordesman said.

As his brigade leaves, Garcia said the security environment is fairly stable but also fragile.

“Can I predict what’s going to happen in the next few months? Not really,” he said.

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