Special ops troops remain in Iraq

Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times:

As U.S. military forces continue to stream out of Iraq, formally ending combat operations on Tuesday, one of the most effective elements of those forces missed the drawdown completely.

There are as many special operations forces in the country now as there were when the exit began last year.

President Obama, who as a U.S. senator opposed a 2007 troop surge and called for withdrawing all troops from Iraq, is set Tuesday to tell the nation that combat missions by Americans are officially over. There are now fewer than 50,000 American troops in Iraq, down from a surge-high of 168,000 in late 2007.

New challenges begin. An Iraqi security force of about 670,000 troops will have to shoulder the brunt of attacking insurgents, while Iraqi politicians seek an elusive deal to form a new parliamentary government.

"In reality, the Iraqis have been doing the majority of the security work for some time now," Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told PBS last week. "And so I feel very confident that they will be able to continue. There will be ups and downs. There will be bad days, but they will continue to provide adequate security."


Those holdovers may include some of the 3,000 Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force and other specialized warriors who remain locked in combat.

With regular U.S. ground combat brigades leaving, special forces commandos have become the key to successfully handing over all military duties to the Iraqis 15 months from now.

The commandos train Iraqis to do the jobs of American soldiers. They also make up joint terrorist-hunting units with government troops to rid the country of al Qaeda operatives tied to Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.


The burden is falling not only on special operators. The Iraqis will rely heavily on CIA officers, who will remain for the foreseeable future to help identify and eradicate insurgents.

A big part of the 2007 troop surge was an emphasis on intelligence collection to locate and then kill or capture insurgent leaders.

"Challenges are substantial, and I suspected they will increase," said Bart Bechtel, a former CIA operations officer in the region.

Mr. Bechtel said that if CIA officers lack protection from the U.S. military, it will be more difficult to find human intelligence sources.

I suspect many of the CIA officers are former special ops guys. There job will be much more dangerous now. The special ops guys are a combination of trainers and mentors. They have done a good job in getting the Iraqi units ready to take the load.

The major area of weakness is with the Iraqi police who are not as careful and who tend to be corrupt in some cases. Many of the enemy operations seem to be directed toward the police in an attempt to break their morale.


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