US mission in Iraq officially changes Wednesday

by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — A fundamental shift will take place at the end of the month in the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq, a Pentagon official said Aug. 19.

The change in mission from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn reflects the improvement in conditions in Iraq and officially will end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq and change it to one of stability operations, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Some 56,000 U.S. troops are now in Iraq, down from a high of 180,000. The number will drop to 50,000 by the end of the month, Mr. Whitman said.

“It takes us from what has been a combat mission to a stability operations mission,” he added. “It takes us from a military lead to a civilian lead.”

Though the “advise and assist” mission officially does not change until the end of the month, American brigades have been in place and performing that mission for more than a year in Southern Iraq and now through almost all of the country.

“As a practical matter, we have now been conducting stability operations for the last several months,” Mr. Whitman said.

Six U.S. Army brigades, plus support personnel, will work with Iraqi security forces through the end of 2011, when all American troops will be out of Iraq. The units are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division, the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division and the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. Soldiers with these units will be advising, assisting, teaching and mentoring the Iraqi army and police in a range of capabilities.

U.S. Air Force personnel will continue to help in training the Iraqi air force, and Navy and Coast Guard personnel will continue to advise and assist Iraq’s maritime forces.

“This is not like a light switch, where one day you are doing combat operations and the next day you are doing stability operations,” Mr. Whitman said. “It has been a transition that has taken place gradually over time.”

President Barack Obama has indicated that the mission officially will change on Sept. 1, and military forces and U.S. civilians in Iraq are moving to reflect that.

Though instances of violence have dropped dramatically in Iraq, dangers still exist there. U.S. forces always maintain the capabilities to defend themselves, Mr. Whitman said, and will retain that right even after Sept. 1. American “advise and assist” units will have the capabilities to come to the aid of Iraqi security forces if called upon, he added.