Students at Iraq’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal School in Besmaya, Iraq, tell U.S. Admiral James Foggo, commander of JFC Naples, about their studies Feb. 7, 2018. Foggo also visited other locations in the country during the visit to include the National Defense University in Baghdad (Photo by JFC Naples Public Affairs)
Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton
NAPLES, Italy – U.S. Navy Admiral James Foggo, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, visited Iraq to inspect the NATO training activity at the explosive ordnance disposal school in Besmaya, Feb. 6 to 7, 2018.
Foggo also visited other locations in the country during the visit to include the National Defense University in Baghdad and a civilian-military planning seminar.
Since the beginning of 2017, NATO forces have been conducting activities for Iraqi forces to help them develop capabilities in their fight against terrorism. NATO Training and Capacity Building-Iraq activities feature military training teams that advise, assist and train Iraqi forces. The teams, under the NATO flag, are designed to complement ongoing Coalition, European Union and United Nations efforts, as well efforts from Allied countries.
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"The NATO training teams are small but effective,” said Foggo. "It’s an economy of force operation.”
Comprising two forward locations in Taji and Besmaya and supported by a core team in Baghdad, military and civilian personnel from Allied and partner nations mentor Iraqi instructors in civilian-military planning, security sector reform, maintenance of Soviet-era military equipment, explosive ordnance disposal and demining, counter-improvised explosive device, and military medicine.
"Our objectives are to support institutional capacity building in order to contribute to effective and efficient structures and policies to sustain advancement in Iraqi training and capacity over the medium and long term,” said U.K. Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Stephen D. Walton, coordinator of the Iraq Focus Group within JFC Naples.
Walton has also served as the JFC Naples liaison to the NTCB-I Core Team and NATO liaison to the Combined Joint Force Land Component Commander, Joint Force Development Division, to advise on NATO activity and liaise with members of the Coalition on current and future training plans and commitments. Walton, during his previous time on the activity in Iraq, worked in Baghdad, where JFC Naples took command and control authority over the core team in April of last year.
"The students were extremely enthusiastic to receive training and develop their relationship with NATO,” Walton said.
During his visit to Besmaya and one of the largest training facilities in Iraq, Foggo highlighted the several NATO members providing training to the Iraqi students, but he also pointed to other trainers sharing their valuable insight.
"We also have Iraqis who have come in from the battlefield who are in a train-the-trainer mode to help other Iraqis to become able to go out and dispose of explosive ordnance and also conduct counter-IED missions in the field,” Foggo said.
Walton said the train-the-trainer approach is one that differs from what’s been happening in the country in previous years. He acknowledged that the Iraqis, supported by training delivered by the U.S.-led Coalition at the tactical level, have had significant battlefield successes over ISIS in recent years, but the development of Iraqi instructors across all disciplines has necessarily taken a back seat to training operators.
"NATO aims to address that training need to a point where Iraqis are able to generate, train and sustain their own,” Walton said.
After spending time with the troops, the JFC Naples commander left with a good impression.
"I’m impressed with the melding of NATO members with Iraqi servicemembers and the seriousness with which they take the syllabus and the training and the execution of the EOD mission,” Foggo said.
Foggo assured the training teams and the Iraqi students that the NTCB-I activity would remain a priority.
"I will come again, and we will continue to work in solidarity with our Iraqi brothers to solve this problem of explosive ordnance disposal after the battlefield,” Foggo said.