Last 2009 deployment: Spies

Some of the U.S. Army’s best spies recently departed Fort Lewis for Iraq, where they will help teach the Iraqi military how to play spy games at a high level too.

The arrival of the 1,000 soldiers of the 201st Battlefield Support Battalion represents the last major deployment for a Fort Lewis unit to Iraq this year. A total of about 9,000 soldiers with two Stryker infantry brigades, a fires brigade and I Corps deployed there earlier this year.

The job of the 201st is to provide a wide range of intelligence for American military units at 38 sites across Iraq, with staffs ranging from three to 300 soldiers.

They will coordinate spying from human sources, intercept cell phone and other electronic messages, do counterintelligence work, manage Arabic linguists, and monitor and target enemy positions, among other specialized tasks.

The brigade headquarters, located at Contingency Operating Base Adder outside Tallil, will provide strategic intelligence to I Corps, which runs daily military operations under the banner of Multi-National Corps-Iraq.

Brigade commander Col. Robert Whalen said much of the work in the coming months will be dedicated to supporting Iraq’s national elections in January.

And many members of the 201st will partner with Iraqi security forces, training them in collecting intelligence – one of the fields where Baghdad still relies heavily on the American military.

“Success will be a patient accumulation of things,” Whalen said in a news release. “It will be seen in the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces as we pass on special skills to them, especially those from the long-range surveillance company. When we leave, the Iraqis won’t miss a beat.”

His unit is the successor of the 201st Military Intelligence Brigade, a mix of active-duty, Reserve and National Guard soldiers who had been stationed at Fort Lewis since 1987. On July 3, 2008, the old 201st was deactivated and replaced by an all-active-duty version.

The brigade had less than a year to prepare for the deployment, Whalen said. Its soldiers trained among retired Central Intelligence Agency officers and Joint Special Operations Command service members. Whalen spent time in Morocco learning Arabic.

At a ceremony in Iraq last week, the 201st Brigade officially took over responsibilities from the Fort Hood, Texas-based 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.

Whalen said the work of the Fort Hood unit means his soldiers should enjoy a smooth transition.

“They did an extraordinary job preparing us to take over operations here. They developed relationships, which is an important part of Iraqi society,” he said. “Because of that, we are able to plunge right in from Day 1.”

Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758