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American Forces Press Service

Petraeus Ready for New Iraqi Security Mission

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2004 -- With Iraqi sovereignty less than two months away, the man who commanded the 101st Airborne Division the first year of the Iraq war is up for an enormous, new challenge.

Army Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who stepped down as commanding general of the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based division May 14, will be heading back to Iraq in the next few weeks to oversee training of Iraqi security personnel.

In an interview on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer" today, Petraeus said his newest mission is an enormous challenge, but it's not "mission impossible."

The general noted that he received great support from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command head, Army Gen. John Abizaid, for his mission.

He said he would try to do what he did up for the 101st when it was stationed in the northern part of Iraq: putting together "a great team of coalition soldiers."

"We're still assembling as much talent as we can get," the general noted. "We then are going to partner with good Iraqis ... and work with them from building from the top."

Petraeus said his plan calls for working closely with Iraqi Civil Defense Corps battalions, police elements, the new Iraqi army and facility- protection security forces.

The general pointed out that Iraq's security forces will need to be equipped as well as U.S. forces for the kind of combat involved. He said such efforts would help prevent Iraqis forces from running away like they reportedly did during clashes in Fallujah.

"This is not just police walking the beat," Petraeus pointed out. "This is police getting shot at by serious bad guys who want to kill them or blow them up."

The general said the Iraq security forces will need body armor and Kevlar helmets. "They have got to have the same things that our (U.S.) soldiers would have."

In the meantime, Petraeus said that the United States must be careful in asking Iraqi security forces to take on missions for which they may not have been trained or equipped.

The general remarked that photos of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison were a shock to him, adding that the U.S. military must "make the changes necessary and drive on with the mission."

The general noted that during the 10 months his division spent in northern Iraq, more than 1,000 Iraqis were brought in for questioning. Several, he said, were let go immediately. Other detainees needing further interrogation or incarceration were sent to Abu Ghraib, he noted.

Soldiers in his unit, he said, understood how far they could go when interrogating detainees in accordance with Geneva Conventions guidelines.

"Every now and then we did have to remind folks what the limits were, frankly," he said. "You know this is combat out there, there are people who are doing horrible things to our soldiers, and again the chain of command has to be actively involved to make sure that those limits are observed."

Petraeus said abuses at the prison were a "setback," and will present challenges in efforts for U.S. soldiers to regain the support of Iraqis. "We just have to redouble our efforts to demonstrate the reasons we're there, which is on behalf of the Iraqi people, having given freedom to them," he said.


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