U.S. shifting 2,000 troops to Basra area
About 2,000 U.S. troops will head to southern Iraq as British forces there leave, said British Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon.
That will bring the total number of U.S. troops in southern Iraq to about 3,500, Salmon told reporters Monday.
Meanwhile, the British will be reducing their presence from about 4,100 troops to a few hundred by July 31, Salmon said.
As the British prepare to withdraw, the 10th Mountain Division will be taking control of a new headquarters responsible for Iraq’s nine southern provinces.
The Multi-National Division — South East headquarters and Multi-National Division — Center headquarters will be consolidated into a new headquarters called Multi-National Division — South "toward the end of the month," officials said.
The extra U.S. troops will provide situational awareness to the brigade and division headquarters as well as the Basra Ops Center, Salmon said.
"The main focus will be on police training, border training, ports of entry training," he said. "And obviously, a commander will still need a quick-reaction force, just in case anything happens."
The 10th Mountain Division will head the new headquarters until May, when the 34th Infantry Division out of Minnesota will take over, officials said Tuesday.
The new headquarters will be located at Basra Airport, said Lt. Col. Dickie Winchester, a spokesman for British forces in Basra.
"Why? Because the airport is five miles out of the city, conforms to the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, and is at a strategic situation," Winchester said.
Basra was once the site of vicious fighting that — unlike the rest of Iraq — was mainly between competing Shiite militias.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered Iraqi forces to Basra without American guidance in the spring of 2008. The fighting proved harder than expected, yet Iraqi units managed to push back militias with significant American help.
More recently, British commanders launched operations to get control of the violence. Commanders have since called their operations in southern Iraq a success. Salmon said security is stable and that much of the remaining violence is due to simple crime or corruption.
Gen. Michael L. Oates told his soldiers that he expects a neutral reception when 10th Mountain arrives in Basra.
"My sensing is that the Basra population has a mixed opinion about Americans coming down," Oates wrote in the 10th Mountain’s official blog. "Our initial conduct will make the largest impression. We are going to have to ensure they do not see us in a negative light."
Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.