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Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Military police will continue training their Iraqi counterparts outside the wire, but how and how often remains unclear as all U.S. combat troops were required to pull out of Iraqi cities by Tuesday, the Army’s top cop said Monday.

“U.S. forces will only respond to the cities when they’re requested. As military policemen, though, our mission is still going to be to go in there and work with the Iraqi police,” said Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, provost marshal general and commanding general of the Army Criminal Investigation Command.

“They’re working out the rules for that right now,” Johnson said at Camp Zama the day before Tuesday’s deadline.

The move is part of the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and was part of a long-term security agreement reached by the two countries last year.

About 6,000 MPs are on the ground training Iraqi police, operating in small groups known as police transition teams, Johnson said.

How the squad-sized elements — typically about nine soldiers — will operate on their own in unsecured regions without backup close by remains to be seen, he said.

“Our mission is still to go in there with the Iraqi police and train them,” Johnson said.

“[But] no longer do you have those American battalions right there. We’re going to have to see how that goes.”

Meanwhile, to relieve the pressure of frequent deployments on military police and their families, “one of my missions in life is to grow this regiment as fast as I can,” Johnson told troops at Zama, the second stop on his tour of the Pacific.

He is scheduled to be in South Korea later this week.

The MP corps has grown from 42,000 four years ago to 56,000 today, and Johnson said the goal is to add 7,000 more in the coming years.

The increased force combined with fewer duties related to detainee operations is setting the course for longer dwell time, he said.

Military police at Camp Bucca, for example, were responsible for 22,000 detainees a year ago. They now oversee only about 4,000 detainees, and the camp is scheduled to close by September, Johnson said.

The primary goal, Johnson explained, is to give troops two years of downtime between deployments.

“We are not there yet. It may be at least another year before we’re there,” Johnson said.

“Afghanistan is building up, but not nearly as much as we’re drawing down in Iraq.”

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