From the Office of Congressman Bradley
(Washington, D.C.) - First District Congressman Jeb Bradley is part of a congressional delegation presently traveling in the Middle East to survey military operations and reconstruction efforts and review current progress in forming a representative government in Iraq. The delegation is also reviewing the training and equipping of Iraqi Security Forces. Bradley is also meeting with New Hampshire military personnel currently deployed overseas.
During his trip, Bradley will provide e-updates describing his travels. The following is the first update:
Today I had the opportunity to meet several soldiers from New Hampshireat Camp Victory in Baghdad: 1st Lt. Alicia Burrows of Meredith, Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Jennings of Newmarket, Maj. Gene Del Bianco of North Conway, Maj. Scott Maxwell of Salem and civilian Maureen Heard of Derry. All five indicated that the morale of the troops was very high and that current living conditions were good. Each of them wanted to express that while they recognize the danger and difficulty of their missions, they support it and are proud of what has been accomplished thus far. They also expressed dismay that news reports at home did not focus enough on the progress being made in Iraq. They all believe that while the Iraqi people are accepting of the U.S.'s temporary presence in Iraq, the Iraqis are eager to govern their own country. Sgt. 1stClass Jennings spoke of being in Ramadi last week on the day that the suicide bomber killed scores of Iraqi police recruits and how later that same day more recruits were signing up - an example of the spirit and resilience of the Iraqi people.
The congressional delegation met with Col. Fondacaro, who leads the IED Task Force, a multi-component team that studies and assesses improvised explosive device(IEDs) attacks and recommends how best to counter them. While Col.Fondacaro was supportive of the better equipment, body armor, electronic jammers and armored Humvees that the military is now using, he also stressed the asymmetric nature of this conflict and how adaptive the terrorists are in their use of technology, particularly with regard to IEDs. He stressed to us that while better equipment is essential, better training to anticipate IEDs was also essential. More soldiers with Special Forces-type of training, who have a lot of experience and have developed the skills to out-think an enemy that is both clever and capable, are necessary. The four members of the delegation that serve on the House Armed Services Committee, including myself, all agreed that the Committee needs to take a further look into soldier training to ensure that there are ample resources, including equipment and training, to respond to IED attacks. Col. Fondacaro also had high praise for the TALONTM robot, a remote-controlled robot used for disarming explosive devices that is partially manufactured in Manchester by Granite State Manufacturing and Foster-Miller.
We also had a chance to see one of the newer, fully-armored Humvees. It is a very substantial and solid vehicle with fully-armored doors and chassis. I also got a chance to see the newest body armor vests. Recently, a N.H. Marine who had served in Iraq had called me to ask about shoulder and side protection pieces. I was glad to see the newest vest available with the full protection measures and was told that the shoulder and side protections are increasingly being made available as add-ons. They weigh approximately 50 pounds, and although it does reduce mobility somewhat, it offers much better protection. The body armor can get quite hot in the heat, but several soldiers I spoke with cited the importance of moisture-wicking clothing, developed locally at Malden Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Overall, the soldiers were very appreciative of the improved force protection measures that Congress has authorized in the past years.
Later in the day, we met with Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, Commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, which is working to train Iraqi police officers and border patrol agents. So far, about 135,000 officers have been trained and that number will expand to 200,000 by the end of this year. We heard from Maj.Gen. Peterson that the Ministry of the Interior needs to enhance its command-and-control structure, better establish human rights, and establish accountability metrics for measuring police performance. The political process is a key element in determining which individuals will lead the Interior and Defense Ministries, for these individuals will need to be widely accepted by Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis.
Maj. Gen. Peterson also introduced us to an Iraqi who commands the Emergency Response Unit, which is an Iraqi Special Forces police unit similar to an FBI S.W.A.T. team. These are an elite Iraqi police force under the command of the Ministry of the Interior with minimal U.S. involvement. He and some of the members of the unit we met are very dedicated, and although there are only 410 Iraqis in this unit, they have had significant successes acting on intelligence gathered by the Ministry of the Interior.
It is interesting to notethat on my first trip to Iraq in November of 2003, we met one of the very first police units in Kirkuk. On my second trip to Iraq in April of 2005, there were approximately 150,000 Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)consisting of police officers, border agents, and soldiers. Today, that overall number is roughly 225,000. Two years ago, I met an isolated group of police during my visit to the country. Today, I met the commander of an elite police force. Currently, there are eight training centers for police in Iraq, and several hundred of the trainers are Iraqi. Admittedly, the police forces and the ISF in general have had some issues with their operations, but their overall performance is improving dramatically every day. The fielding of these police and security forces, as well as the establishment of an elected government, are clearly the keys to stability in the region and allowing our soldiers to begin returning home.