U.S. has new mission in Iraq, but same commitment to success

Beginning Wednesday, the United States enters a new phase in its military operations in Iraq. I’m one of the 50,000 U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq conducting what we call stability operations.

Essentially, it means my soldiers and I are doing a different mission with fewer U.S. forces. We are focused on advising, assisting and training the Iraqi army and police to continue their management of their counterinsurgency.

We also support State Department Provincial Reconstruction Efforts to assist the government of Iraq with its infrastructure, economy and rule of law efforts.

Iraq has substantially improved over seven years of tough fighting. Insurgent attacks are down by 90 percent from 2006-2007 and the Iraqis demonstrate daily they can handle their internal security.

In northern Iraq, insurgent attacks are down by more than 50 percent from last year alone. Markets are open. New construction and ruble removal are seen everywhere. A new Iraqi university is opening down the road from our forward operating base.

That does not mean that atrocities do not occur from time to time. My battalion alone has suffered two killed in action and three wounded in action in the 60 days we’ve been deployed. The new mission we’re conducting beginning Wednesday does not mean a light switched on or off in Iraq.

It means that we’ve graduated to the next stage of our support to the Iraqi security forces and people. We remain committed daily and continuously execute combined patrols and training with Iraqi army and police to assist them in maintaining their momentum of success.

The army and police have improved substantially and are proven experts in managing their counterinsurgency their way. We reserve the right to protect ourselves at all times.

U.S. forces and your American soldiers still possess the same capabilities to defend ourselves in Operation New Dawn that we did in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The rules of engagement have not changed. We reserve the right to defend ourselves at all times. We still move around Iraq in fully armored vehicles, wearing full body armor, with ammunition to deal with the enemy if they raise their heads against us.

Ideally, we will protect ourselves with the assistance of our Iraqi army and police allies. But if we must we will operate unilaterally in accordance with the security agreement to defeat insurgent groups focused on U.S. soldiers. We remain the same U.S. Army that demonstrated high intensity operations in Desert Storm in 1991 and humanitarian relief in Haiti.

Now we continue to demonstrate our professionalism and agility by stepping aside and supporting the Iraqis daily to execute operations as the sovereign government they are. We remain committed to their success and maintaining long-term relations.

Lt. Col. Robert J. Molinari is an infantry battalion commander serving his third tour in Iraq. His parents, grandmother and uncle live in metro Atlanta.