By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Operation Iraqi Freedom will transition on Sept. 1 to Operation New Dawn, marking the official transfer to stability operations.
This isn't a new mission as stability operations are already under way in a vast majority of Iraq, said Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, who leads III Corps and serves as deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq. The general talked with members of the Central Texas media Thursday morning during a video teleconference at Fort Hood.
The approach of that transition began a drawdown in forces that is still in process. Numbers started at 170,000 and sit at about 80,000, Cone said. The final goal is to have about 50,000 in Iraq by Sept. 1.
U.S. soldiers will advise, train and equip Iraqi forces while special operations soldiers will partner with Iraqi security operations units that will conduct counter terrorism operations, Cone said.
With a reduction in troops comes a reduction in bases across the country. What started as 500 is now 130, and that will shrink to 105 in the next few months, Cone said.
Units have already sent 18,000 vehicles and 600,000 other pieces of equipment home, Cone said.
It's been about 100 days since III Corps took command in Iraq, and some of those soldiers are already returning home.
Cone said that the corps deployed with more soldiers than it was authorized, and as troop numbers in Iraq reduce, so does the need for some of the specialty jobs that the corps overmanned.
Cone didn't say how many from III Corps would return early to Fort Hood, but that it was "not a significant number."
If those soldiers aren't needed, Cone said, it's "probably best we send them home."
Cone also praised the work of Fort Hood units like the 13th Sustainment Command and 36th Engineer Brigade in Iraq. What the 13th has accomplished is "monumental," the general said. It had a role in putting everything from bullets to bottles of water in soldiers' hands while maintaining one of the best safety records of any unit in Iraq, Cone said.
The command will hand over its mission to the next unit on July 1 and begin its return to Fort Hood.
The 36th is the single remaining engineer brigade in Iraq, and is responsible for every construction project in the country, Cone said.
Leaders from units who will deploy to Iraq later this year, the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, have already visited and discussed their upcoming missions with Cone, he said.
The brigade is currently at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., and the regiment recently returned to Fort Hood from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.