As the sun came up in Diyala province on Sept. 1, the day looked no different from Aug. 31. The new dawn of Sept. 1 does not mean a light switched on or off in Iraq. This day did not mark a change from black to white. I view the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and the beginning of Operation New Dawn (OND) through several lenses that appear as shades of gray over time. The transition from OIF to OND reflects 7 1/2 years of combat, struggle and sacrifice. It represents lows and highs. It reminds us of staring into the abyss of failure and surging upward toward success.
The transition to Operation New Dawn means all those who have ever served in Iraq can feel a sense of pride in bringing this day about. The transition to the Iraqis taking the lead in fighting the insurgency is a monumental achievement. For many, it may be difficult to remember Iraq through the lens of 2006-07, as I do, which included the deadliest months for Americans since the Vietnam War. Many remember the dark, dire early days of the "surge." Well, today, attacks are down more than 90 percent and the Iraqis are responsible for and managing their own security. Attacks are down more than 50 percent here in the north of Iraq in the past year alone, and the overwhelming majority of them are ineffective. These facts of today were the stuff of dreams just a few short years ago. I ask you to step back for a moment to see the truth in the context of staggering progress, reduction in threats and great successes that have occurred through the efforts of U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi Security Forces.
There has been much talk about the difference between combat brigades and advise-and-assist brigades (AABs). Let me be clear. The brigade that I so proudly command today in Iraq has the same combat and combat-support soldiers who have served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past nine years. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. recently said the AABs in Iraq are "as combat-ready as any in our military." What makes us an AAB is what we do as defined by changes in our training, mission, mindset and capabilities.
Instead of being focused on combat operations, our primary mission now is to conduct stability operations and, specifically, civil security. Truth be told, we have been moving in this direction for years. This mission involves providing for the safety of Iraq and its population, including protection from internal and external threats. How? We support, advise, assist, train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces, who have full responsibility for security in Iraq. Additionally, as the U.S. military takes the back seat to diplomatic efforts, we also support the U.S. Department of State Provincial Reconstruction Teams as they advise and work with local and regional Iraqi governments in the areas of civil capacity, economics and governance.
Iraq can still be a dangerous place at certain places for very short periods. Unfortunately, every once in a while, a devious enemy who avoids confrontation and prefers to "hit and run" gets lucky, and this has happened a few times to the brigade I command, including the first U.S. soldier deaths since Sept. 1. No doubt, there will be more casualties in the future - it is simply the nature of this environment right now. Every instance of a U.S. soldier wounded and killed is tragic, difficult to understand and impossible to put into perspective, particularly if you are a loved one, but this is the nature of our service to the nation. This is why our task here continues to be so important. We must continue to support the Iraqis as they close the aperture on the insurgent's hopes and capabilities.
The weight of responsibility upon our shoulders is great, and we must follow through to the very finish. As the military mission closes in on its last 15 months, the final six U.S. Army AABs are part of the last 50,000 deployed and are cementing the legacy of our predecessors - more than 1 million who have served, including more than 4,400 dead and 35,000 wounded. We must close the U.S. military mission in Iraq with honor and dignity for ourselves and all of our predecessors, and we must do all we can to ensure that a strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq endures for decades to come.
Col. Malcolm B. Frost is the commander of the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, currently serving in the north of Iraq with responsibility for the U.S. military mission in Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces.
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