San Diego Union Tribune

July 27, 2005

Marines planning role as mentors in Iraq

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – When the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton returns to Iraq for the third time, its primary missions will be training, guiding and supporting Iraqi security forces, rather than waging counterinsurgency operations.

During the last tour in Iraq, "we did not have any Iraqi security forces we could count on – no military and no police," the 1st MEF's commander, Lt. Gen. John Sattler, said yesterday.

Sattler expects there will be 18 battalions of Iraqi troops in the large and violent Anbar province when his troops return early next year.

Sattler served in Iraq as operations director for U.S. Central Command from August 2003 until he took command of the 1st MEF last September.

He noted that initially the American-led coalition focused on getting Iraqi units into the field, "putting an Iraqi face" on security. But those poorly trained and led troops were not ready and had a tendency to disappear when the fighting got tough, he said.

The emphasis now is on the quality of the forces rather than on numbers, providing "instead of an Iraqi face, an Iraqi capability," Sattler told reporters here.

"When we go back now, the number one mission will be to mentor . . . train and mentor the Iraqi security forces," he said.

The number two mission will be "to enable and facilitate Iraq security forces. They won't have the logistic capability, they won't have the artillery, the air support" that U.S. troops have, Sattler said. "We will have to provide that to the Iraqi security forces."

The third job "will be to conduct counterinsurgency missions, stability and support missions," he continued.

The 1st Marine Division and its supporting units will be training small teams that will be embedded in each of the Iraqi battalions to train and mentor. Other Marines will provide logistical, transportation and heavy weapons support, Sattler said.

He said teams of 10 to 12 Marines will move in with an Iraqi battalion as trainers and role models.

"The whole idea is for us to become more and more distant," so that when Iraqis open their doors during security sweeps, "they see Iraqi warriors and Iraqi police."

U.S. soldiers and Marines would be "somewhere in the background," prepared to act as a quick reaction force in case of major combat, he said.

Ultimately, the U.S. forces would move away from the major cities, into camps on the outskirts where they would be less visible and less vulnerable to the improvised explosive devices and other attacks that have resulted in 1,768 dead and 13,657 wounded.

"I believe that's the way to go. In a counterinsurgency, it's the only way to go," he said.

While planning for the mentoring program, Sattler said the Marines are drawing on their experiences from Vietnam, where Marine officers served as advisers to Vietnamese Marine units and squads of Marines moved into villages to train and organize their defenses in the Combine Action Program.

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