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US Commander Develops Regional Transition Task Force in Iraq, Possible Model for Country

The U.S. commander in what was one of Iraq's most violent areas says he has developed a Transition Task Force to give Iraqi forces responsibility for security in the area, and he believes the model can be used throughout the country. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

When asked about how a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq might work, senior commanders have talked about "thinning" the lines - gradually reducing the number of U.S. troops in an area as Iraqi forces take over, rather than pulling out entire units. Now, a brigade commander in the area south of Baghdad that used to be known as the Triangle of Death, says he is implementing such a plan, and it could work for the entire country.

Colonel Dominic Caraccilo calls it a Transition Task Force.

"We have operated under this structure for a month now, and it has proven successful," said Colonel Caraccilo. "Coalition forces have transferred 18 of 23 patrol bases to the Iraqi Army, and we maintain partnership through joint planning and daily patrols."

Speaking via satellite from Iraq, Colonel Caraccilo says when his 4,000-strong brigade leaves Iraq as scheduled next month, it will be replaced by fewer than 2,000 troops. And he believes the number could be down to about 1,000 before long. The colonel says the Transiiton Task Force will coordinate U.S. training teams at all levels of the Iraqi security forces, and will be able to call on coalition air power, rapid reaction forces and other types of support as the Iraqis need it.

"It is a model that we developed here, the Transition Task Force," he said. "It's tailorable to the area. While it works here, and I think some form of it will work just about everywhere. I don't want to think that you can take our model and move it to Nineweh [Province] or somewhere else and have the same kind of effect. It has to be tailored to that area. And I think it can be quite tailorable and modular in form."

U.S. troops have been reduced in other areas, but without the structure Colonel Caraccilo has put in place. Such a structure could make it easier for U.S. commanders to draw down their forces in the coming months, something Iraqi and American leaders want to do as conditions permit. The Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama has pledged to accelerate the process if he is elected next Tuesday.

Just a year ago, Colonel Caraccilo's area south of Baghdad was among the most violent in the country, with dozens of roadside bombs and other attacks by insurgents every month, and dozens of U.S. and Iraqi casualties. Now, he says, attacks are down to just a few every month, and in the past year he has lost only one soldier in combat. He believes the 30,000 Iraqi security personnel in the area can continue to keep the peace with coalition support, even though nearly two thirds of the Iraqi forces are paid volunteers in the "Sons of Iraq" program.

"For us it's the way to go, the Transition Task Force," said Colonel Caraccilo.

Colonel Caraccilo says the Iraqi troops understand the need to protect the people and improve services in order to defeat an insurgency. Indeed, he says the Iraqi forces are better suited to do that than U.S. and coalition forces are.