National Police Transition Teams making a difference in Iraq
April 27, 2007
As the Global War on Terrorism continues, deploying to hotspots worldwide has become a way of life for many Army warriors.
For example, U.S. and coalition forces are supporting and training law enforcement units in Southwest Asia and Africa. This backing allows local national governments to maintain and enhance democratic rule for their citizens.
One such unit of Soldiers based in Europe, the National Police Transition Team, recently deployed to Kuwait and to Iraq.
Comprised of 88 Soldiers from across the theater, NPTT conducted training for this mission at the Joint Multinational Training Center, Grafenwoehr, Germany, and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germany.
Once deployed, the 88 Soldiers divided into 11 teams, supporting six battalions and two brigade headquarters of the Iraqi National Police. Their mission: advising the commander of the Iraqi National Police on how to fight the counterinsurgency.
"We did some very good things with (the INP)," said Lt. Col. Steven Vass, team chief of the 5th National Police Brigade Transition Team. "The U.S. and their coalition partners provided the resources. The challenge was helping the Iraqi National Police to become a viable element of the Iraqi Security Forces, capable and willing to defend all Iraqis, regardless of religious or tribal affiliation."
Overall, the INP are not your standard "traffic cops," but rather a federal police force that answers to the Ministry of the Interior and is separate from the Iraqi Army, although capable of army-style operations.
One mission included coalition and Iraqi forces partnering to establish checkpoints that constricted access into and through Baghdad. According to Vass, the most effective technique the INP used to reduce the number of improvised-explosive-device attacks was creating traffic control points, where vehicles are searched to stem the flow of weapons and IED materials.
Although NPTT participation was crucial to these missions, it was the INP who took the lead.
"On a patrol, we wanted the Iraqis to have the majority of interaction with the civilians," said Maj. Horace Carter, brigade intelligence officer and advisor for the 3rd INP Brigade NPTT. "We would always take the backseat. We wanted to stay in the background."
INP interaction with the civilian population is vital, said Carter said.
"A raid or an arrest might take between 20 and 30 INP personnel, in addition to our advisors," he said. "In situations like that, the Iraqis would always take the lead. It is important to have the Iraqi people trust and have confidence in (their own) police."
With each shared mission, each roadblock, each experience, cooperation between the NPTT and INP increased and their efforts began to show in improvements.
The shared efforts help to combat the two conflicts going on in Iraq. One, explained Vass, is the main battle that U.S. forces are mostly involved in - fighting the insurgency. The second is sectarian violence, aimed at Shiites or the Sunnis, Islam's two largest denominations.
"It is a different culture," Vass noted. "They have different priorities. To them it's tribal; it's family; it's territorial.
"Part of our mission," he added, "was to ensure members of the INP did not favor one group over another," he said. "But that is a challenge. Politics play a big part (in nearly every decision.)"
Carter and his team lived at Forward Operating Base Union 3, located in a heavily guarded section of Baghdad known as the Green Zone or International Zone. This approximate five-square-mile area is where many of the diplomatic missions and embassies are located.
Carter said their living arrangements made the 11-man NPTT teams a tight-knit unit.
"We did everything together," he said. "We became very close."
In an effort to retain INPs, the NPTTs focused a great deal of time on improving the INP quality of life. During the deployment, Vass said, the overall livability of the INP compound was markedly improved with kitchens and modern cooking equipment installed along with water purifiers and coolers.
Concrete walls were placed around INP locations to protect against insurgent attacks, and air conditioning units were installed in the INP living quarters.
As Vass put it, "when it's 120 degrees, no one wants to do anything."
The quality of the INP also has markedly improved.
"There used to be a time when the Iraqis would get in a firefight, and they would just cut and run," said Carter said. "Now when we found ourselves in a firefight, they would stand right beside us.
"Now we are seeing them step up to the plate and fight for their country," he said.
(Garry Barrows writes for the USAG-Grafenwoehr Bavarian News)