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Iraq: COL John Charlton Commander 1st BCT, 3rd ID
Posted by: McQ on Friday, August 03, 2007

Another interesting blogger roundtable discussion with a commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Divison (TF Raider) in Ramadi Iraq. Their commander, COL John Charlton (on his 3rd deployment to Iraq) talked about the changes and developments he's seen in Ramadi and al Anbar province since he arrived in January.

Ramadi is the provincial capital and a city of about 400,000. When COL Charlton's brigade combat team arrived in January, it was still a very violent place, averaging 30-35 attacks a day. Today it averages 1 attack or less in his area of operations (AO) and within Ramadi itself, the city has gone 80 cumulative days without a single attack. That was the result of an 8 week campaign, with very intense fighting, to clear the city.
Given those results, COL Charlton stated he has no qualms about stating that al Qaeda has been defeated in Anbar and that defeat is a "strategic failure" for them. That, however, doesn't mean AQI is happy or accepting of the situation. He recounted an attempt by 50-60 AQI on the 30th of June to re-enter and attack Ramadi from the south. His forces were tipped off about the attack and successfully intercepted and destroyed the force. Many were wearing suicide belts. Subsequent interrogation of captured AQI members has yielded some very good intelligence.

That ability to initially secure and then sustain the security has brought a huge change in the life of the common citizens of Ramadi. In January, there was no city government and the city was completely without power. Any power at all came exclusively from generators. Since then, the security sustainment has allowed a city government to be established and that government has now established power to 80% of the city.

Speaking of the security environment, it has been established and maintined by a truly joint force of American military, which includes soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines (about 6,000) under COL Charlton's command. Also included in his command are 7,400 police and 4,700 Iraqi Army personnel.

I asked him about the competency and capability of the Iraqi security forces (police and army) and how they related to the people of Ramadi.

He said the police force was pretty new but very competent. If you've kept up with developments in Anbar you're aware of the fact that the tribal sheiks, who were the first to decide to cooperate with the CF and Iraqi government, urged their young men to join the police and protect their community. A flood ensued, and as COL Charlton said, they now have a very competent and committed police force that does an excellent job and relates well to the community.

The Iraqi Army units he has were predominantly Shia when he got there, but have now been almost balanced out with Sunnis recruited from the local area. Same assesment - competent, committed and relate well.

As usual, he noted that their ability to sustain themselves is a problem and that the current priority is the logistics piece for both.

COL Charlton was asked about the morale of his soldiers, noting that some of his unit (20%) were on their third tour while the majority of his unit (60%) were on their second.

He said, given this is his third tour, that he sees and feels more of a sense of purpose in his soldiers this time than in any previous deployment. That's because, he says, they're actually living with the Iraqis this time and have developed a connection with the community. That "strong bond" has had a tremendous positive effect on morale. They form relationships, get to know members of the community and care about what happens.

That brought us into a discussion of EPRTs and his thoughts on their effectiveness. He said his EPRT is his "secret weapon" and their effectiveness can't be over emphasized. When the military trains the police and army it sends out training teams which actually live and work with that unit. He said that is exactly what the EPRT has done except from the political and governmental side. The effect, he says, has been unbelievable. Money is starting to flow in from the central government, outside agencies are able to help, etc.

He said they've been able to start 196 project which have employed 18,000 and brought 6 million dollars into the economy. The Iraqi/American Chamber of Commerce has come in and given out 100 small business grants. A formerly state-owned ceramics factory is almost ready to open its doors and will employ 1,000 to 1,500 when it does. Agribusiness too will soon be underway. In addition they've set up numerous contractor's workshops to teach potential contractors what they need to know to bid and work projects and they've also set up vocational technical training as well. The key to all of that has been the work of the EPRTs.

COL Charlton was asked about the claim by some here that they are "arming the insurgents" in Iraq. He was extremely forthright in his answer saying "that's ridiculous". He said that first of all, the insurgents he's seen didn't need arming and secondly they'd never do that anyway. The questioner then revised the question saying perhaps what they're talking about is arming the police and army forces in the area. COL Charlton said, that he "can't help that Anbar is predominantly Sunni", but that he saw no indication that these people were disloyal to the state of Iraq. As he said, every indication he sees is "they are interested in serving their country". He went through the recruitment and vetting steps I previously talked about in another article.

He ended by complimenting his troops and how privileged he felt to be able to serve with them. Said Charlton, they are "absolutely the most precious thing America has to offer".

I second his thought. And it tells me what type of a commander he is ... certainly one I'd have no qualms about leading my son in combat. Again, a very interesting interview and another which adds more data to the whole for assessing what is truly going on in Iraq.

UPDATE: Here is COL Charlton in an earlier briefing prior to our blogger roundtable.

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