Trainers see progress in Iraq National Police
HOHENFELS, Germany — Joint security stations manned by Iraqi and U.S. personnel will be part of a security plan for Baghdad that involves a “surge” of 17,500 extra U.S. troops into the Iraqi capital this year, according to the leader of a recent mission to train Iraqi National Police.
Lt. Col. Steven Vass and 84 U.S. soldiers were welcomed home to Hohenfels on Thursday after a yearlong National Police training mission in Baghdad and Samarra, Iraq.
The soldiers manned eight training teams that taught counterinsurgency tactics to the National Police, which responds to security threats too tough for ordinary police to deal with.
The 42-year-old Wallingford, Conn., native said 1st Infantry Division teams that replace his men will live and work with the National Police around the clock at the security stations.
“[The stations] will have elements from the Iraqi National Police, Iraqi army and [regular] Iraqi police and U.S. forces will be there also 24 hours a day,” he said.
The National Police have been accused of turning a blind eye to Shiite militias. Several leaders of the force were removed by the Iraqi government, Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard said last month. Sunni political leaders praised the move but said they’ll see what happens.
Master Sgt. William Babauta, 36, of San Diego, Calif., who helped Vass with the training, said U.S. personnel have stayed overnight with the National Police on occasions but up to now U.S. forces and Iraqis have lived separately.
“We were at Forward Operating Base Justice in Baghdad’s Khadimiyah neighborhood. The compound was split into U.S. on one side and INP on the other with a wall in between,” he said.
Vass said more police trainers will be added to teams in Iraq to allow them to conduct more missions with the Iraqis.
The force has improved markedly in the past year with more police showing up for duty, he said.
“It was great seeing their leaders conducting reconnaissance for operations in Baghdad. There was one combat patrol with U.S. forces and National Police and we had an [improvised explosive device] detonate and small-arms fire, and the National Police and coalition forces responded professionally against the insurgent threat,” he said.
Babauta said National Police brigades that the trainers worked with were at half-strength a year ago and are now at 70 percent strength. For example, a brigade that is supposed to have 2,500 police now has about 1,750 personnel, he said.
A highlight of the mission was watching junior INP leaders evolve into senior leaders after U.S. trainers taught them management skills, leadership skills and noncommissioned officers’ roles in counterinsurgency operations, he said.
Joint Multinational Training Command chief Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins told the returning trainers that they have done their part to help a land of religious, ethnic, tribal and regional differences stand on its own as a democracy.
“These soldiers taught [the INP] some specific techniques that are used on the battlefield, [but] the most important thing they brought was themselves as an example of a group of people who came from different ethnic backgrounds, different units in the army and different parts of the country but have one focus — to bring freedom and liberty, not to their own country, but to a different country.
“If I was an Iraqi who wanted to kill another Iraqi because he was of a different faith or from a different part of the country or from a different tribe, I’d have to think twice when I look at these U.S. soldiers,” he said.