CAMP VICTORY -- History will record that Operation Iraqi Freedom lasted seven years, five months and 11 days. The operation, which began with the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, will end on Sept. 1 as Operation New Dawn begins, marking the formal transition from combat to stability operations.
"Operation New Dawn does not change the level of U.S. commitment to Iraq," Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, United States Forces-Iraq commanding general, said at a July 21 Pentagon press briefing. "It changes the nature of our commitment: (from) one that is military-dominated to a civilian-led commitment.
"As we transition to stability operations, U.S. forces will continue to train, advise, assist and equip Iraqi Security Forces and carry on with our partnered counterterrorism operations," he said. "We'll support the U.S. Embassy, Provincial Reconstruction Teams, United Nations and other nongovernmental organizations dedicated to building Iraqi civil capacity."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the name change from OIF in a Feb. 17 memo to Gen. David Petraeus, then the commander of United States Central Command.
"Aligning the name change with the change of mission sends a strong signal that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission," he wrote, adding that it will reinforce the U.S. commitment to honor the 2008 Security Agreement and recognize the evolving relationship between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
Because the situation in Iraq has improved, the U.S. military partnership role with the ISF and Iraqi government has also changed. The ISF is taking the lead in security operations and the U.S. forces now focus their partnership primarily on honing the skills of the ISF through training and advising.
Throughout the past seven years, most U.S. military service members would compare the path of our partnership with the ISF to that of its standard three-phase model for training; crawl, walk, run.
When the ISF first started building its forces, the U.S. partnership was focused on showing them what right looks like. As the ISF grew in numbers and skill, the U.S. conducted joint missions and began to move back and let them take the lead. Now, the ISF is a capable, professional security force so the U.S. military partnership transitions into its new mission to train, advise, and assist, letting ISF take charge of securing the nation, which is comparable to the run phase.
At the outset of Operation New Dawn, the change of mission may not be immediately evident to the 50,000 service members on the ground in Iraq. According to Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence K. Wilson, USF-I command sergeant major, U.S. forces have been conducting stability operations in Iraq since 2004.
"If you really asked them ... they're doing stability operations now," said Wilson. "So it's not a kinetic piece anymore, it's civil capacity ... a strategic enduring partnership with Iraq."
Despite the shift away from kinetic missions, U.S. forces will continue to take part in Iraqi-led counterterrorism operations against terrorist networks and, in accordance with the Security Agreement, will use all means necessary to protect themselves if attacked.
As part of the transformation from combat to stability operations, the structure of the U.S. brigades also changed to realign their personnel and equipment to perform the changing missions.
Beginning in the fall of 2009, brigade combat teams began to transition with advise and assist brigades. On Sept. 1, the official start of Operation New Dawn, six AABs will be in place and conducting stability operations. The AABs make up the backbone of U.S. forces' support to ISF as they continue to increase their capabilities and support the Rule of Law.
To ensure they are providing the best support to the ISF and the government of Iraq, AABs are tailored to the unique operations environment where they operate. The units are augmented with as many as 24 specialty teams such as engineering, transportation, investigative and forensic specialists, counter explosives and counterterrorism and training.
By tailoring the makeup of the AABs, based on location and need, USF-I ensures the ISF and local governments are getting the right support they require to protect the local residents and grow civil capacity.
Another major role for the AABs during Operation New Dawn will be the continued support of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
The AABs will provide the PRTs with security, and when requested, the expertise of their specialty teams. Joint military and PRT efforts are an essential component of stability operations and Operation New Dawn and U.S. forces will continue to provide security and materiel to the PRTs, as well as the expertise of the AAB specialty teams, when requested.
The U.S. forces will also continue to work with nongovernmental agencies like the United States Aid for International Development, or USAID, and the United Nations as they work to build Iraq's civil capacity.
As the country regains its economic and political footing and the ISF take control of the country's security, Odierno said the people of Iraq have shown patience and determination.
"Over the past seven-and-a-half years, the Iraqi people have proven to be extremely resilient and courageous," Odierno said. "They want to move forward and make their country better than it was before.
"Political and economic progress is more important now than ever. That's why we believe this new stage in our relationship will help ensure that Iraq remains on a path to develop security, diplomatic, and economic depth that will ultimately contribute to peace and stability in the region."