From the Office of Congressman Jeb 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. During his trip, Bradley will provide e-updates describing his travels. The following is the second update:
Today we flew from Kuwait City to Mosul, which is located in northern Iraq. There are some 19,000 American and Iraqi troops in the Mosul area. Mosul,the second largest city in Iraq with a population of about two million people, is ethnically diverse with a large Kurdish and Sunni population.
The purpose of today's trip to this region was to see the Iraqi Army training facilities and to view the new fully-armored combat vehicles. Unfortunately, when we landed in Mosul, the weather had deteriorated, making helicopter travel difficult. The members of the delegation were met by Brig. Gen. Rickey Rife, the Assistant Division Commander of the 101st Airborne Division, and Colonel Mike Shields of Kennebunkport, Maine, who is Commander of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Both officers are very active in training the Iraqi Army, which is now under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense.
Both Brig. Gen. Rife and Col. Shields indicated that conditions are improving and that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police are performing better all the time. Both men indicated that the three elections held last year in Iraq were a critical component in improving conditions. They also cited the fact that the insurgents arevery adaptive and that there have been an increasing number of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, though the impact of these attacks on troops has lessened as force protection measures have improved. Just as Colonel Fondacaro mentioned to the delegation yesterday, Brig. Gen. Rife and Col. Shields stressed the importance of training and situational awareness as the key elements to combating IEDs.
Brig. Gen. Rife and Col.Shields also said they believe that the Iraqi public is increasingly becoming less tolerant of the insurgency as the impact of the suicide bombers and terrorist attacks angers and frustrates Iraqi civilians, who are often the targets of the attacks. Because the Iraqi people are becoming less tolerant of the insurgents and terrorists, they are providing more and better human intelligence to the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police about who the terrorists are and where they are located. Human intelligence is another key element to thwarting and intercepting terrorist attacks.
Our delegation also met an Iraqi officer who was previously an officer in the Republican Guard during Saddam Hussein's rule. He is now commander of a 600-person battalion that currently operates in coordination with American troops. However, on January 25th, the operational command of this unit will move under the auspices of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. The Iraqi officer stressed to us that his unit is ready for the change of command and that they have the equipment they need. This unit has resolved problematic issues such as soldiers quitting, and now, as the unit is functioning, they are increasingly winning the support of the Iraqi people. By July, eight other battalions that are operating with American forces should be able to operate under Iraqi authority. All told, four of the 10 Iraqi Army divisions will be located north of Baghdad, and like the Iraqi officer's battalion, the larger Iraqi Army divisions will be able to operate independently, leading to greater stability in Iraq.
One issue that we discussed with Brig. Gen. Rife, Col. Shields and the Iraqi officer was protection of civilian Iraqi leaders. It is critically important that as the new government is formed, civilian leaders have adequate protection against attacks directed at them. It is important that the necessary resources bein place to ensure their safety and protection.
Perhaps the highlight of my day was being able to have lunch with troops from my home state. I met several New Hampshire soldiers today: Capt.John Curry of Concord, 1st Sgt.Thomas Walsh of Berlin, Spc. Keith Demers of Tuftonboro, and Spc. Stephen A. Gray of Gilmanton. These four soldiers said the troops have very high morale and support their mission. Like the N.H. soldiers I met with the day before, these soldiers said living conditions were also very good. Capt. Curry told me that he is embedded with an Iraqi police unit and he indicated that the police are showing continuous improvement. Spc. Gray spoke eloquently of the importance of prevailing over terrorists and that ceding Iraq to terrorists will impact the safety of all Americans.
Lastly, the delegation viewed fully-armored combat vehicles including Humvees and Strykers. The crew members who operate these vehicles cited the much better armor as key to surviving IED attacks. One of the vehicles we saw had been hit on several occasions. The crew proudly pointed to marks made by bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, which were very minimal. Though no vehicle can be fully protected and body armor cannot offer complete protection, the enthusiastic response of the troops to these improved vehicles and body armor was quite significant.
Traveling to Iraq and being able to talk to troops first hand is critically important for my role on the House Armed Services Committee. I truly value the conversations I have with these brave men and women and use this information to better guide me as we work to fund our nation's defense systems. We must continue to make it a priority to provide these courageous troops who are working so hard and sacrificing so much with the resources they need to prevail in this critical fight against determined terrorists.