GI-trained Iraqi police ready for action
May 22, 2008
(See video at end of story)
JISR DIYALA, Iraq — The Iraqi National Police commander and the team of U.S. Army advisers huddle for a pre-raid brainstorm. Two high-value targets have been traced to a Jisr Diyala neighborhood with a long history of Shiite extremist trouble.
"That whole area, that’s the heart, right there," Lt. Col. Geoff Ellerson, commander of the National Police Transition Team, says during the strategy session. "For a while there, they all left Jisr Diyala and went someplace else. Now we’re starting to get more of them coming back."
Brig. Gen. Emad Ali Abud Faris, commander of the National Police’s 3rd Brigade, concurs.
While Emad and the Army advisers talk indoors, the National Police grunts wait outside for the green light. They’ll be the ones doing most of the work on this night.
"It’s after midnight. Are you ready to go?" Ellerson asks Emad.
Emad gives a nod and the group heads for the Humvees.
Learning how to huntIn Jisr Diyala, southeast of Baghdad, Ellerson leads an 11-man squad responsible for getting a 3,000-officer police force into fighting shape.
The advisers say the National Police’s 3rd Brigade has grown by leaps and bounds in the past six months. The goal is to have the unit stand on its own in the next year, with Army advisers serving in a scaled-back "tactical overwatch" mode.
"A lot of people think this should happen overnight, but that’s not how it works," Ellerson said.
Since November, soldiers in the NPTT, which operates under the umbrella of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, have served as trainers and mentors to the National Police’s 3rd Brigade. The rise of the National Police in the greater Jisr Diyala region southeast of Baghdad was a key factor in the quelling of extremist and sectarian fighting a year ago, according to commanders in the area.
Master Sgt. David Eastabrooks, a member of the NPTT team, remembers well some of the first missions with the National Police, who were more inclined to be spectators than actors.
"They wanted to stand back in the beginning. We were taking the lead, going in first. We physically had to show them how it was done on missions," Eastabrooks said. "They needed to be shown what ‘right’ looks like."
At the start, the NPTT team — comprised of six NCOs and five officers — were the ones kicking through doors and questioning the suspects.
"We’re basically teaching them how to hunt," Eastabrooks said.
But it didn’t take long for the police to take the lead, he said. Now, it’s about refining their technique. Another key to the success, the unit contends, is the Iraqis’ willingness to get their hands dirty. Although classroom work and mentoring is part of the project, the most important aspect has been the constant action in the field, Ellerson said.
"The more food you stuff into a stomach, the more it expands," Ellerson explains. The fast pace "fed their appetite and their capacity to perform grew."
Since November, the National Police’s 3rd Brigade has captured three targets the coalition considers high value and more than 40 people of interest. The unit also has uncovered some substantial weapons cashes, including a stash of more than 500 Baghdad-bound mines a few months ago.
"Six months ago, that was a dream," Ellerson said.
Second time’s a charmOn a recent mission for two high-value targets, the National Police led the way, charging down dirty alleyways in pursuit of the suspects thought to be holed up in family members’ homes.
The mission wasn’t perfect. The policemen tended to get clumped up in bunches at times. But at the same time, they didn’t need to be prodded into action, Eastabrooks said.
The police didn’t find the people they were looking for on this trip, and a few suspects gave them the runaround.
"I’m telling you that he was here," one police officer insisted as he questioned a relative of a suspect.
Although they didn’t get their suspects this time around, the unit was back out a few nights later.
This time they captured four suspected insurgents, who were taken in for questioning.
Ellerson, whose tour is supposed to end in November, has requested a six-month extension. With the National Police unit in Jisr Diyala so close to standing on its own, Ellerson said he wants to see it through to the end.
"This is how we win the war," he said.