WASHINGTON — US forces in Iraq are training Iraqi troops to perform complex combined arms maneuvers involving armor, air and artillery support along with critical IED detection techniques, a senior enlisted soldier just back from Iraq says.
Command Sgt. Maj. James Carabello, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization's (JIEDDO) senior enlisted adviser, shuttled among the five US and coalition training sites in Iraq earlier this month, and says that the Iraqis are well equipped for the counter-IED fight.
At the Iraqi Bismyiah training facility near Baghdad where the Iraqi Army does most of its counter-IED training, "they seem to have a really good handle on what they're doing with their [explosive ordnance disposal] EOD guys" Carabello told Defense News.
"It's a first-rate facility and they have plenty of training areas. They have a good vision on where they're going with it. Their vision is about producing EOD personnel that are pretty highly trained."
Carabello said that a number of uniformed and contracted JIEDDO trainers have been working with US soldiers and Marines deployed to Iraq who are training the Iraqi Army in route clearance and IED detection techniques.
At the huge training sites in Taji and Al Asad to the north and west of Baghdad, hundreds of the 2,800 US troops deployed to Iraq are walking the Iraqis through complex tasks, including combined arms maneuvers and breaching exercises, Carabello said.
"They're dispersed, they're using their armor and integrating their indirect fire assets and air assets, their engineering assets. They're bringing it all together to make them more survivable in combat. This isn't easy stuff," he said.
When it comes to the counter-IED training, Carabello said that US trainers are setting up complex urban and rural scenarios and running squads, platoons and companies through the lanes time and time again.
"I was really glad to see after the Iraqi soldiers completed their counter-IED lane training, they wanted to go back through it again, and that's the best feedback you can get from anyone, when they want to go through it again."
The focus on IEDs is critical, with tough urban fights in Tikrit and Mosul looming on the immediate horizon. But it's not only an Iraqi problem.
"This is the normal condition of the battlefield. There are not many places in the world where you're going to go where you're not going to encounter [IEDs]. You're going to have to understand how to deal with this," Carabello said.
On March 25, the US Central Command said in a statement that Iraqi forces carried out multiple successful counterattacks against Islamic State fighters near the cities of Kirkuk, Bayji and Habbaniyah, including blunting two car bombs and 12 suicide bombers in an effort to retake the Habbaniyah Bridge.
"The tables are turning," said Col. Wayne Marotto, a CENTCOM spokesman.
The coming fights for the cities of Tikrit and Mosul promise to be tough slogs where Islamic State is expected to use the IED as one of its main weapons. Already, Iraqi government forces and some Shiite militias fighting alongside them with embedded Iranian advisers have cleared hundreds of IEDs close to Tikrit, according to reports.
The Iraqis are struggling to keep up with the sheer number of buried bombs, which has stalled the expected operation to push into the city and clear it of what is expected to be several hundred extremists.
The US-led coalition has pounded the city with airstrikes over the past several days.
Across the five coalition training sites, the Iraqis are "being brought up to basic standards" and are being taught how to integrate fires, armor and air assets, as well as how to sharpen their medical evacuation procedures and, critically, how to push their engineering and sapper assets out in front of their infantry units to scour for buried bombs.
The US-led coalition has pounded the city with airstrikes over the past several days in order to soften up resistance, but as US forces have seen in places like Fallujah, Sadr City and Najaf, it is going to take ground forces to clear the cities house by house, and IED by IED.
JIEDDO leaders have been concerned in recent months that some in the public think the command is being shuttered, given the news that it is moving under the Army's Acquisition, Technology and Logistics office, as part of its move to the base budget.
Since its inception in 2006, JIEDDO has been funded through the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, but in fiscal 2017, it'll find a home in Big Army's base budget.