Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, took time during his mid-deployment leave to address members of the Central Texas Association of the U.S. Army on Tuesday during the association’s general membership luncheon on Fort Hood.
Funk, who is currently the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve — a 71-nation coalition to defeat the Islamic State — deployed with approximately 350 soldiers with the corps’ headquarters in August 2017 for a year-long deployment in the Middle East.
“We’re in a lot better shape (against IS) now. The physical caliphate in both Iraq and Syria has been defeated,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to do, though, against pockets of ISIS ... So there are some enemy we need to take on. What’s great is now the local security forces can manage that part of the process in Iraq — with our help, but that’s OK. They are, in fact, on the leading edge now.”
Funk said the mission of the coalition will continue to be the same in the foreseeable future to ensure the complete destruction of ISIS. However, Turkish aggression along their border with Syria has had an impact on the coalition’s ability to conduct operations.
“How we measure that (impact) I’m not sure yet, but I think our Syrian Democratic Force partners, are having to deal with that issue,” he said. “That’s not in my area, so I don’t really have a great answer on (the impact of Turkish aggression in the region).”
The general added that the people in Iraq and the northeastern part of Syria where the coalition has authority are happy that the U.S. soldiers are there in the region.
The training of Iraqi forces by the coalition has worked wonders on the Iraqi military, however.
“If you look at the remarkable turnaround in the last three and a half years the coalition has been able to do when it’s applied to the Iraqi Security Forces, they have changed the culture of an entire military to take on a pretty determined enemy,” Funk said. “It’s an incredible change in their demeanor, their skill and their determination.”
Funk said the training provided to the Iraqi military has taken a force who was retreating from ISIS in 2014 to sustaining division and corps level combat operations. Part of that training has been the development of a noncommissioned officer corps within the ISF.
“The NCO corps is fledgeling: The challenge is cultural,” he said. “They don’t understand providing for (NCOs), everything is dictated. They don’t have the flexibility our NCO corps has to make things happen on the battlefield, to really get after mission command. Nor do they really have this care and concern for the men and women they are responsible for. It’s coming, but it’s generational. We didn’t get to this great NCO corps overnight, either, so in a fledgeling democracy of 13 years, they are starting to make some progress there.
“As a matter of fact, Command Sgt. Maj. (Michael) Crosby is working on that in theater right now with the inspector general of the Iraqi Security Forces,” Funk added, “to develop and implement an NCO corps program. It’s really a leader development course, from junior officer level and NCO level on up that’s going to be remarkable in how it changes. I predict the Iraqi army will be the best army Iraq has ever seen in the next five to 10 years and will challenge the finest armies in the region.”
The coalition is of vital importance to the Iraqi government and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, Funk said.
“It brings them legitimacy, brings a sense of urgency and brings a set of competencies that they need,” he said. “It means air, it means intel ... I think Prime Minister Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi would say, ‘I don’t need your actual foot soldiers; I need your advisors, I need your air power, I need your intel and I need you to drive the force.’ I think he’s got a vision.”
The determination and grit of the Iraqi forces has been the determining factor in liberating Iraq from IS, Funk said. The Iraqi military has been in constant combat since the retaking of Mosul prior to III Corps arriving to take over the coalition and is still in combat now.
Funk also praised the Syrian Democratic Force troops the coalition is training, especially because of the full inclusion of female fighters.
“ISIS is terrified of the (Syrian Democratic Force) because according to their belief, if you get killed by a woman then you don’t go to heaven,” he said. “They are terrified of them. By the way, I’m a little scared of them myself. They are tough.”
Funk will return to Iraq after his short vacation and is expected to return with the III Corps command team by October.
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