Alaska's Stryker Brigade halfway through its Iraq mission

Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The largest Alaska-based Army unit since Vietnam to spend time in a war zone is more than halfway through its yearlong deployment to Iraq.

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So far, the 3,800-person 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team has lost 14 troops.

The Stryker Brigade arrived in Iraq from posts in Anchorage and Fairbanks in early September. Troops are stationed at a variety of places, including in and around Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities.

The troops have helped train thousands of Iraqi security forces. Members of the 172nd also are helping local leaders rebuild their communities and develop local governments.

Col. Michael Shields, commander of the brigade, said that coalition forces are no longer conducting counterinsurgency operations on their own. Now, Iraqi security forces are helping and, in some places, are taking a lead role.

"We still have a lot of work to do but we're steadily making progress," the commander said in an e-mail from Iraq.

Fourteen members of the Stryker brigade have died since the brigade arrived in Iraq: four in noncombat incidents and 10 in combat. Of those, seven were killed because of roadside bombs.

Shields said 236 of the brigade's soldiers have been wounded. Of those, 170 have returned to duty.

"We have soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who are injured and dealing with painful rehabilitation," Shields said.

The Stryker brigade started shipping out for the desert from its Alaska posts last August. The unit arrived in Iraq in early September, replacing a Washington-based Stryker brigade that had lost more than 30 people during its yearlong tour.

Training the Iraqi forces has been the 172nd's top priority. Shields said they have set up police academies and training programs for Iraqi army officers and soldiers that include everything from marksmanship and medical training to leadership courses.

Shields said it is essential that the Iraqis take responsibility for their own security, both because the Americans won't be in Iraq indefinitely and because the local forces know the people, culture and terrain better and are therefore better suited to defeat the insurgency.

To date, the 172nd has helped train 5,000 Iraqi police and has transferred authority for counterinsurgency operations to five of the nine Iraqi army battalions it's working with, Shields said.

Still, all the Iraqi army battalions, even the five that have taken the lead in their areas, remain dependent on the Americans for logistical and other support, he said.

"So we still have a ways to go," he said.

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