Red Bulls ready to ship out to Iraq

Major General Rick Nash
Major General Rick Nash will lead the troops when they head to Iraq this spring. Nash says this time the Iraqis will be in charge of day to day operations.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

More than 1,000 Minnesota National Guard troops will ship out to Iraq in the next few weeks.

The soldiers, part of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, have trained at Ft. Lewis Washington for the last two months.

Their job for roughly the next year will be to assist the Iraqi army, police and border security as they prepare to take over control of their country.

Minnesota National Guard Brigadier General Dave Elicerio says Iraqi forces need more training and equipment to prevent problems along their border. Otherwise he thinks Iraqi troops are ready to take over.

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Graphic: Red Bulls in Iraq
National Guard officials say this mission for the 34th Infantry Division is notable because of its scope. The division will command all Coalition military operations in nine Iraqi provinces.
MPR Graphic/Than Tibbetts

"To operate within the borders of their country, under the conditions that exist today, they're a very capable source and they're doing a great job of getting after security within their borders," he said.

The Minnesota soldiers will be in charge of 17,000 multinational troops in the southern third of Iraq.

That area now includes the province of Al Basra, which the British handed over to US forces at the end of March.

Elicerio says Iraq is much safer for soldiers than it was in 2006 when he commanded an area that saw as many as 12 attacks a day.

"Now we look at an area four times larger than when I was there before, it's three years later and they're seeing, many times, zero significant events per day," he said.

Elicerio says he's confident the soldiers will be home within a year.

In 2007, the infantry division spent nearly two years in Iraq when President George W. Bush's troop surge extended their stay by 125 days.