Operation Iraqi Freedom is an international coalition.
You don’t hear much about that in the mainstream media. When a country pulls out of Iraq, or if there’s controversy about Iraq in a coalition country, the media of course report such news. Surprisingly little, however, is reported about the military contributions of our coalition allies. But our coalition partners should be recognized. We’re not the only ones in Iraq.
Despite international opposition, President Bush was able to assemble a diverse coalition of partners for Operation Iraqi Freedom. True, the size of the coalition is smaller than it was in 2003, and Iraqi policy remains a matter of controversy in coalition countries (as in our own). But the coalition is still a military reality on the ground here in Iraq.
The U.S. presently has 26 coalition partners here in Iraq, with a total of over 23,000 troops which are neither American nor Iraqi.
Here is a list of our 26 partners, in descending order of troop strength: the UK, South Korea, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Japan, Australia, Denmark, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Mongolia, Lithuania, Albania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Norway and the Netherlands.
For an up-to-date catalog of coalition military forces, click here.
Assembling an effective military coalition is more than a matter of inviting various countries to send their armies and park them in Iraq. It involves careful planning and consideration.
Coalition armies arrive here as part of their own units. They wear their own uniforms, bring their own equipment and weapons, fly their own national and unit flag, and operate under their own chain of command. But they are part of a larger whole.
Iraq’s territory is divided into more manageable sectors known as "divisions". Each nation’s military is assigned an area of responsibility, and chains of command are established. This is to avoid duplication, confusion and “friendly fire” incidents.
The coalition is an integrated military effort. Military elements from various countries will work together and support each other on specific operations.
When my National Guard unit flew into Iraq from Kuwait, we didn’t fly in an American plane. We arrived in a South Korean Air Force C-130.
On the ground, joint patrols unite elements from different militaries in a combined endeavour.
Our troops run across some unexploded ordnance, and the EOD team from another country’s army disposes of it.
One night, my unit was carrying out a ground operation. It requested and received air support from an allied military unit.
On another occasion, I personally witnessed a disabled American vehicle being towed to a more convenient location by a recovery vehicle belonging to a coalition partner.
Then there’s the time a coalition military donated a wheelchair so an American patrol could give it to an Iraqi girl who can’t walk.
On another occasion, we received a call for help from an American unit in another province, in another country’s sector. I contacted a representative from that country so he could contact his men on the ground, where the help was needed.
Some American soldiers even get assigned to liaison duty and work with another country’s army on a regular basis.
Coalition operations sometimes afford the opportunity for our soldiers to socialize with soldiers from allied armies. They can trade unit patches and other uniform paraphernalia. They try another army's rations. They swap stories about their respective militaries. They get a taste of how another nation’s army operates, how they are different, how they are the same.
Soldiers of any country, after all, share the same profession. So there is a lot of common ground.
Such interactions, both professional and social, help American soldiers to respect other military traditions and realize we are not the only ones involved. Many allied soldiers now serving in Iraq have already been deployed as our allies in other places, such as Afghanistan, the Balkans and Somalia.
Here in Iraq, I have personally encountered military personnel from Italy, Britain, Poland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, Mongolia, El Salvador, Romania, Lithuania, Ukraine, Australia, Latvia and one soldier from Slovakia. I saw an aircraft belonging to the nation of Georgia. And I've had the privilege of working together with foreign troops on a mutual assignment.
It’s noteworthy also to point out that our coalition includes former enemies who are now allies.
Sixty-plus years ago we were in a fight to the death with the Japanese. Now they’re with us in Iraq.
In the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was NATO’s enemy. Now, former Warsaw Pact nations such as Romania and Bulgaria are here with us.
Even some former republics of the U.S.S.R. such as Ukraine and Georgia are serving here as our allies.
As a matter of fact, of our 26 current coalition partners, 17 of these are former communist nations.
Here in Iraq, we have allies with worthy traditions, distinguished units, good equipment and dedicated soldiers. They deserve our respect and appreciation, and we can learn from them. As the Operation Iraqi Freedom continues its fight, we should not forget the contributions of our coalition allies.
Allan Wall (email@example.com) is presently stationed somewhere in Iraq with his Army National Guard unit.
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