By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
The commander of Multinational Division-Baghdad said Friday that division officials have asked for more troops in the area and believes they will be given them in time.
Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr. addressed reporters at the Pentagon during a morning news conference from Baghdad, Iraq, and a transcript of that session was later released by the Defense Department.
Fil said eight brigades are under command of the division and said that it was not too much to control, when questioned by a reporter whether that was far more than one division headquarters could handle.
Fil also was asked if he had considered asking for another headquarters to help handle the responsibility.
"I've told my bosses that it's just fine, that we do not have a span-of-control mission – or issue right now," Fil said. "But we are looking hard at bringing in another division headquarters that might take regions perhaps to the outside of Baghdad in order to allow us to further concentrate our efforts inside the city."
Fil went on to say that with additional brigades, more combat and combat support troops would be needed.
"And we've likewise been discussing those same requests for forces," he said.
Fil said his boss, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of Multinational CorpsIraq and III Corps, "has committed another brigade to us, and I believe that there will be decision points that come up in the months ahead that might even bring further forces, if they're required."
Though Fil hasn't asked for a certain number of additional troops, division officials have requested specific elements, including additional attack helicopters and engineers.
" ... We'll leave that to the folks who generate the forces for us to do that," he added.
The two-star general's comments came the same day that the House of Representatives passed a resolution to reject the president's decision to send more troops to the Middle East. Bush announced in January his new strategy for winning the war in Iraq. That plan involved deploying more than 20,000 more troops to the country, most of them to the Baghdad area.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Tex., voted against the House resolution Friday, saying politicians need to lend their full support to the troops "in order to achieve a winning strategy in Iraq."
The Republican backed Bush's plan and criticized the resolution in a release from his office.
"The Iraq Study Group, the commanders on the ground, and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki all called for more boots on the ground to help quell the violence in Iraq and provide the stability we need to bring our troops home," he said. "President Bush took their collective advice and now the Democrat majority has said no."
The Defense Department announced Friday that the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters, which is based in Fort Stewart, Ga., would deploy to Iraq sooner than scheduled. The headquarters, which affects about 1,000 soldiers, received deployment orders in November, and was set to depart in June, but that has been moved up to March.
Those troops will provide "command and control, intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance capabilities in support of Baghdad security operations," according to information from the department. That announcement affects about 1,000 soldiers.
The 3rd Infantry troops will be the third group of troops to arrive in Iraq since Bush's announcement last month, according to the Associated Press. A brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., arrived in January and the next to arrive is the 1st Infantry Division's 4th Brigade. The Fort Riley, Kan.-based soldiers are in Kuwait and will move into Baghdad later this month, the Associated Press reported.
Aside from the increase in American troops, Fil also said that there has been a large increase in the number of Iraqi forces in Baghdad. That increase includes 13,000 Iraqi soldiers, 20,000 national policemen and 41,000 Iraqi police service troops, the general said. That combined with the American troops means that there are about 112,000 forces in the area, he added.
He said that the quality of the Iraqi forces is getting better every day and they are beginning to lead operations.
"I've been watching this closely not only over the past three months but, frankly, over the past three years, and they are much more capable, they are much more committed and they are much better led," he said. "And so I've been very impressed with their operation so far.
"So I'm encouraged by all of this. I must say, though, there's a ways to go and they continue to improve themselves. And the enemy that we face is a tough one and he's fighting tooth and nail."
Fil also outlined the new plan in Iraq, which he said involves three basic parts: clear, control and retain.
Clearing out extremists in capital city's neighborhood is the first objective, he said. After that, troops are moving to what Fil called "the control operation.
"Together with our Iraqi counterparts, we'll maintain a full-time presence on the streets, and we'll do this by building and maintaining joint security stations throughout the city," he said. "This effort to re-establish the joint security stations is well under way. The number of stations in each district will be determined by the commanders on the ground who control that area."
The retain phase begins when control of the areas is turned over to Iraqi security forces, who will then be responsible for the everyday safety of the neighborhood and its people. At that point, Fil said, American and other troops would move out and provide assistance when needed.
That handover occurred in An Najaf province, one of four under Multinational Division-Baghdad, in late December.
Fil said that it is important to remember this will not be a swift action and it will be tough.
"It will take time for additional forces to flow in; it'll take time for these forces to gain an understanding of their areas and to establish relationships with the local Iraqi leaders and the citizens," he said. "It will also take time to conduct the clearing operations and then to build on our achievements."
Reports of successes come in daily from Iraq, whether they are of markets and government offices reopening or of relationships between American and Iraqi forces.
However, that good news is shadowed by the deaths of American troops. As of Friday morning, the Defense Department has confirmed the deaths of 3,120 American soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors. The Army has taken the brunt of that with 1,620 active-duty, 407 National Guard and 105 Reserve casualties, and 775 Marines have died since the war began, according to http://icasualties.org.
Senior leaders have said time is running short, Fil said Friday, and he certainly understands that.
"We will redouble our efforts in the coming weeks and months to do everything we can to make this security plan succeed," he added.
"Ultimately, the Iraqis have to want to make this work as much, if not more, than we do."
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547
U.S. Army/SGT. 1ST CLASS RICK LEWIS
Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr., commander of Multinational Division- Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Divison, addresses the Pentagon press corps from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq, during a live satellite press conference Feb. 16.