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Baghdadi's Finest

May 9, 2006

Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Kenney heads the military transition team at Al Asad. He's got 10 Marines advising an Iraqi Brigade on how to take charge of security in the region, and he very candidly explained some of the reasons why the Iraqis simply aren't ready to do it on their own.

They're undermanned:

The Iraqi's 2nd Brigade, 7th Division in Al Anbar is 68 percent of full strength, and they need another full division to handle the area.

Steady drain:

Instead of slowly building in numbers, many of the units have actually seen a steady drain of troops. Soldiers are quitting or going AWOL for extended periods of time for a variety of reasons.

Threats:

Iraqi soldiers (and police) and their families are being threatened and sometimes killed for cooperating with coalition forces.

Conditions:

Conditions at the bases are austere, with cramped makeshift living quarters. Sometimes there's no electricity or plumbing, and the food is average at best. It's cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and the days are long and challenging.

Cash only:

Iraq has no banking system to speak of, so the soldiers aren't paid by check, they're paid in cash. Every 10 days they take leave to bring the money home to their families, so the military has to make arrangements to drop them off and pick them up. Too often soldiers lose their commitment to the cause and don't return to duty.

Selling their stuff:

Some of the soldiers who do come back are "losing" their gear while they're gone. The Marines say some Iraqis are selling their boots and uniforms, and sometimes their weapons, hoping to get re-supplied on their return.

Lack of leadership:

The quality of higher officers is simply not that good. They're not well trained and don't have the knowledge and background and ability to lead that is so critical, especially now.

Old habits die hard:

Iraqi soldiers will occasionally steal from the houses they search, or eat the food that's sitting on the table. "They have an anything-goes mentality," according to Colonel Kenney, especially in their treatment of prisoners. Many lack discipline, but having Marines around gives them confidence and keeps them honest. "We're like their conscience," Kenney says.

On the upside, casualties among Iraqi soldiers are relatively low. Colonel Kenney says the men have plenty of guts and don't shy away from dangerous situations. "These guys are brave," he says, and are "gaining control of their own battle space."

"If there were more gunfights, morale would actually be higher," Kenney told me. "It's harder to fight the battle when the enemy is using IED's and truck bombs and snipers."

Colonel Kenney says he absolutely believes the Iraqis are getting better, and should be good to go in the next 18 months. When I asked him what he'd say to Americans who may be losing faith and want our troops home now, he said "Don't give up! Don't stop supporting the troops. We're not quitters. We're in this fight to win, and we will win."

E-mail Rick

Mr. Leventhal:

I just returned from a year-long tour in Iraq as a military advisor. While there I served in Al Qaim as the brigade-level logistics advisor for the Third Brigade, Seventh Division Iraqi Army. As an advisor I had the opportunity to literally live with the Iraqi Army throughout my deployment.

It is outstanding to see a journalist finally get out to where the story is. I hope you will spend some time with the Military Transition Teams (MiTTs) in the Al Asad and Al Qaim areas while you are there. MiTTs have an incredibly difficult and fascinating mission that very few people, including military people, know much about. I've often felt that if Americans could see and hear about the enormous progress MiTTs have made over the past couple of years that they would have a more positive opinion of our nation's mission in Iraq.

If you do spend time with the MiTT's please don't stop at the brigade headquarters. Get out to the battle positions and see how well the Iraqi and U.S. forces have learned to live and work together. Further, if you meet any 3/7 MiTTs in Al Qaim tell them LT Ink says hello.

1LT Aaron
Indiana Army National Guard


Hello Rick,

My husband is stationed at the Haditha Dam. I would just like to say thank you for putting out what a danger these IED's are. My husband has been infantry since he enlisted 11 yrs ago. He has trained time and time again for combat and firefights, but IED's, well it's up to the eyes and senses detecting those. I worry everyday, every second about him. He is the jump platoon convoy commander. He goes "out the wire" as his daily job.

A worried and very proud USMC wife,
Frances


Hi Rick-

You’re one of the reasons I love to watch Fox- as well as FOXNews.com being my main source of news. I am a Satellite Engineer at COB Speicher, Tikrit.

Stay safe, keep your IBA secure, and keep the great blogs coming!

Dave


Rick,

My cousin was one of those brave U.S. soldiers until February when he was hit by an IED. He was sent out of his camp to investigate a suspicious vehicle & BOOM! So I’m wondering why they didn’t send a robot like you described, or a bomb sniffing dog. It seems that dogs would be ideal for the job. Plentiful, not so costly, easily transported, friendly & therapeutic as well!

Do you see any such dogs out there? If so, do you know how citizens can get involved in helping the military get more bomb sniffing dogs?

I would like to help save some of those fine young soldiers of ours so they don’t end up severely brain damaged like my cousin.

Rhoda
Tampa, FL


Rick,

If you get up to Camp Murez in Mosul give my daughter Amanda a hug and a hello from Dad, we miss her terribly.

Michael
Longwood, FL



My brother's job is to develop counter measures against this threat. He is a smart guy. He and his team will come up with something.

Chris


My son-in-law leaves for Iraq on Thursday (5/11/06) out of Fort Hood, TX. We are both frightened and proud that he will be serving there.

Jeri
Round Rock, TX


Dear Rick,

Just read your report from Al Anbar, my daughter is stationed at Camp Ramadi & I don't get to hear from her often. Eileen is a medic with 2/28 BCT, 876th Eng Bn, hopefully coming home next month. I appreciate the report & some insight as to what is going on over there. Thanks again.
Keep safe & as I always write to Eileen, be vigilant & keep your head down.

Len
Ridley Park, Pa

E-mail Rick