Along with most of you, I have been watching the ongoing political developments in Iraq closely, but what I've been watching even more closely are the growing capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces. After seven years of hard and dangerous work, and the certification of the election results, the ISF is ready to take on full responsibility for the internal security of Iraq. Although there continue to be random high profile attacks, the overall violence trends remain encouraging with incidents down more than 90 percent since the height of the U.S.-led surge and down about 50 percent since the ISF took over security responsibility for the cities last June.
On Sept. 1, 2010, Operation Iraqi Freedom will become Operation New Dawn. By that time U.S. forces will be reduced to 50,000, but it's important to understand that this does not signify any reduction in U.S. commitment to the people of Iraq. Rather, it signifies the readiness of the ISF to take on the full breadth of the internal security mission here. As U.S. forces across the country transition from combat operations to advising and assisting, the importance of continued training and professionalization of the ISF will truly come into focus.
Iraq's security forces today are better than ever, in fact almost 8 out of 10 Iraqis have expressed confidence in their ability to do their job, but plenty of hard work remains to ensure the enduring institutional systems and practices are firmly in place to sustain them.
The Ministry of the Interior has fielded a force of more than 410,000 police across the country, which requires a tremendous logistical effort to sustain operations. In July, the warehouse through which most of those supplies flow began to be managed by the Iraqis. This is truly a significant step forward as logistics management emerges as a major focus area in the coming months for both security ministries.
The goods from this warehouse will outfit the 18 Iraqi run police training centers as well. In these centers, U.S. advisors are providing training directly in only a few specialized areas such as forensics, canine teams, counter-explosives, and criminal investigations. While strengthening these skill sets, the Iraqi police are completely in the lead today protecting the people in the cities and gathering evidence when crimes are committed. That evidence goes to one of six forensics labs, which are operational now while even more are planned as the judiciary begins to rely more and more on hard evidence to convict criminals.
The Defense Ministry has put over 245,000 personnel in uniform and has managed to build the world's fastest-growing Army, Navy, and Air Force. They are honing the skills needed to protect the sovereignty of Iraq and help maintain regional stability after December 2011. The Army has the most capable counter insurgency force in the region and is preparing to transition to building more conventional defensive capabilities. The first of 140 M1 tanks will begin rolling in this summer as the Iraqi tank crews prepare to man them. Actively training at 11 Iraqi-run training centers across the country in unprecedented numbers, the Army is working on specialized individual skills and preparing for a large joint training exercise planned for April 2011.
The Air Force now operates more than 100 aircraft, has nearly doubled in personnel in the past year and is set to grow to 10,000 airmen. Iraq is training its own helicopter pilots and is building a cadre of fixed wing trainers who will help provide a steady flow of skilled flyers to defend Iraq's skies well into the next decade. On Election Day the Air Force flew more than 120 sorties, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with real time downlinks to national command centers. They also provided essential airlift and battlefield mobility.
The Iraqi Navy is also growing in size and capabilities. They possess more than 50 vessels, used to protect off shore oil infrastructure, territorial waters and the commercial ports. The navy now conducts 50 patrols a month in this mission, a 300% increase in patrols from this time last year. They have been fully responsible for securing one of the two critical oil platforms for over six months. Additionally, the first of 15 new, US-built patrol boats arrive later this summer and the second group of 50 Iraqi sailors will soon be training in Louisiana.
Iraqi counterterrorism forces are now very experienced and effective as they run both independent and joint operations maintaining pressure on violent extremists in Iraq.
So I have no doubt that the ISF are ready to take on the mission September 1 and to successfully take the first steps toward what will indeed be a new dawn for the people of Iraq. The six, U.S. advise and assist brigades will be working at the tactical and unit level while we at A&T will continue to assist at the ministerial and strategic level. We will remain partnered every step of the way as the ISF continue to develop and build their skills until December 2011.
With only 16 more months remaining our work must take on a renewed urgency. In tactical terms, we are in "the last 100 meters". This is the most critical part of the mission, the point when a commander brings all of his resources together to close with and achieve his objective. I believe we are at this point now -- in the last 100 meters of this critical mission.
Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero is the United States Forces-Iraq, Deputy Commanding General, Advising and Training. In partnership with the Government of Iraqi, DCG A&T develops professional Iraqi security ministries and forces that are capable of maintaining internal security and defending against external threats; on order, transition designated missions, organizations, and other functions to other USG agencies.