Lt. Col. Michael Lawrence drew two separate circles on a piece of paper. One symbolized how the American military used to run its missions in Iraq, from initial planning to soldiers moving on the ground. The other represented a similar process for the Iraqi army. Only after both planned an operation would the two come together.
Then Lawrence flipped the paper over and drew two more circles, one inside another.
This, said the Fort Lewis Stryker battalion commander, is the new way of doing business in Iraq.
“It’s all the same process now,” he said. “We’re getting information together. We’re targeting together. We’re planning operations together. And, if they ask, we’ll fight together.”
Two Fort Lewis Stryker brigades totaling nearly 8,000 soldiers will be serving in Iraq by the end of September, and a key clause in the security agreement signed in 2008 between the United States and Iraq means their year-long deployments will be far different than previous ones.
The status of forces agreement required all U.S. combat forces to withdraw from cities and towns by June 30. Since then, American troops are keeping a lower profile and increasingly staying on bases while their Iraqi counterparts lead missions in urban areas.
The changing roles are consistent with the declining number of American military deaths in Iraq. In recent months, they have hit their lowest levels since the 2003 invasion. Sixteen service members have been killed under hostile conditions since June 30. None were from Fort Lewis.
By comparison, in Afghanistan — where U.S. troops continue to take the lead against a strengthening insurgency – 114 American service members have been killed during the same period. That includes 11 members of 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis.
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