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Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 16, 2008


Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Leader Louis Lantner on Progress in Iraq

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(3:05 p.m. EST)

MR. DUCKWORTH: Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming out. We are here to talk a little about our efforts in Iraq over the last several months. We’re lucky to have with us Lou Lantner, who is the leader of Embedded PRT Baghdad 4. What we’re going to do is he’ll have a brief statement and then we’ll open it up for questions.

Mr. Lantner.

MR. LANTNER: Thanks. Hi, good afternoon. My name is Lou Lantner, and as was just said, I’m the Team Leader of the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Baghdad Number 4. What that means is that we’re in Baghdad province, as opposed to, say, Baghdad city. We’re about – we’re home-based about 20, 25 miles south of the city of Baghdad at an Army base. We are embedded with a wonderful brigade, the 3rd Combat Brigade of the 101st Airborne, very well-trained and great colleagues. Great to be with them.

So we’re embedded there, and I’m there -- I’m the Team Leader -- my deputy, who is an Army reservist lieutenant colonel, is with me, as well as our USAID representative. We are the management corps and we work alongside the brigade commander, who is a full colonel.

We have three of our team in the city of Mahmudiyah at a forward operating base, a FOB, U.S. Army FOB in Mahmudiyah. Mahmudiyah is the center of government for the region, or the qada, q-a-d-a, qada. I realize some of you might know this material better than I do, but I’ll just spell it out just to make sure you have it right.

And then we have three people in the city of Yusufiyah, which is in the – again, Mahmudiyah Qada. Yusufiyah is the center of agriculture and I am lucky to have two Army reservists as well as a regular Army officer who’s a veterinarian in Yusufiyah. It came as a surprise to me when I got there how important veterinary science is to an agricultural community, even if they’re just raising crops, or of course if they’re raising poultry or livestock.

So the region is primarily agricultural, but in Mahmudiyah we do have, of course, the council of elected officials and we have five factories, two or three of which are very large and they are state-owned enterprises, and then there are two enterprises which are privately owned. And of those five, two are barely operating and the other three are not operating at all.

So what we do as an EPRT, we work with the local governments – that’s the – each qada has several regions called nahiyas, so we work with the nahiya councils, we work with the qada council, we work with the mayor who’s at the qada level. And we try to assist them. We give them training. We talk about developing a budget. We talk about project management, how to track projects that are ongoing. We talk about trying to get the local governments in touch with the federal ministries.

The money comes – if it comes, it comes from the federal ministries. And all the services and most of the operations are run by the ministries. So the school system – hiring teachers, number of schools -- all done by the Ministry of Education. Health clinics, number of hospitals, locations of hospitals, staffing the hospitals and clinics – all done by the Ministry of Health. So the qada council should be aware of some of the needs of the qada, the residents of the qada, and we try to develop lines of communication between the qada councils and the ministries.

Now, many people on the councils have traditional methods of communication through a brother, an uncle, a cousin who works in the ministry, and they get on the phone and they call, and that’s the line of communication. And that works sometimes. That’s not good in the long haul. If people are going to be elected to the qada councils, and people change, I believe you would need solid lines of communication which will be in place no matter who is in power.

And this is the kinds of conversations we have with the council members. Some of our ideas they like very much, some of our ideas they don’t. But it’s one of these things we tell them how we do things, and then it’s up to them to decide what’s right for them, what’s right for their culture, what they think will work. And we try to work with them on those items that they think will work and things that make sense to them.

In any event, they learn more about us as well as us learning more about them, so it’s a cooperative relationship. And that, in a brief sketch, is what we do in the governance side.

On the economic side, economic development, we work with them to reestablish some of the businesses that had been going on before five years ago or so, including a ready-made clothing factory as a state-owned enterprise. Excuse me, it’s partially privately owned and it’s partially state-owned. Then there is a fully state-owned enterprise, which is a metal and bicycle factory. And these factories are on relatively good campuses and they are adjacent to one another. Buildings are in relatively good shape and most of the buildings are unoccupied by people. They have – some have machinery still in them. In the case of the ready-made clothing, they could employ about 700 people and they did employ 700 people seven years ago, and they have about 50 people employed right now. And the same – the numbers are a little higher for the bicycle – excuse me, for the metal and bicycle factory, where they have about 50 or 60 people working now and they could have 1,200 people working.

So we’re looking – we’re trying to assist them in deciding what would it take in addition to orders for production – what would it take to get those factories operating again. And our people and my team members in Mahmudiyah, two of whom are city planners, a city manager, and one business specialist, along with the brigade engineer, look at the buildings and look at the machinery to see what shape the machinery is in, and we come up with a plan and we assist the managers of the plants, of the factories, in developing their plan for getting their factories operating again.

We are also in a position – we, my EPRT, as well as the U.S. Army that – with whom we’re embedded – are in a position to place orders at these establishments. For example, there are – there’s a new need for these very, very large stop signs which in English and Arabic tell people to stop and they have several warnings what will happen if they don’t stop and these are placed at checkpoints. Checkpoints is a relatively new concept where we have concerned local citizens, CLCs, who are for the most part, former Iraqi army people and who are unemployed right now. And they have been screened after they apply for these positions and they are in what might be compared to a neighborhood watch here in the states. So it’s a self-directed -- it’s under the direction of the Iraqi army, but the units are on their own at these checkpoints. And they have their own weapons. We don’t arm them. We’ve been – some of the stories in Iraq have talked about the U.S. Army and the State Department arming local militias. It’s not the case. We haven’t armed anybody on this. But they do have their own weapons and they manage these checkpoints and that’s one big reason why security has reached better levels than it was a year ago because we have these CLCs and we have quite a few checkpoints.

So the stop signs for the checkpoints, we placed the order at the metal factory. We worked with the managers of the metal factory and the ready-made clothing factory to enable them to take orders for production from outside the Iraqi Government. The ready-made clothing factory, their one customer was the Iraqi army. But we, the U.S. Government, wanted to donate a thousand soccer uniforms to various schools and we said, “Hey, can you make us a thousand soccer uniforms?” Well, they could make them, but they just don’t do that or they did not do that previously for people outside the Iraqi army. But when the manager got the idea and she said – and it’s a woman – she said, “That is a good idea.” She went to the Minister of Defense to get permission to produce orders for somebody other than the army. And after a few months of negotiation, she was able to do that. So one of her large orders has been from us for these soccer uniforms. We’re also putting in an order for the vests which distinctive – you know, these international orange colored vests for the concerned local citizens at the checkpoints. So we’ll be able to better see them and recognize them. That’s going – that order is going to go through the ready-made clothing factory as well.

One thing we are concerned about is sustainability. So the programs and factories or whatever we’re working on after we leave, and we are going to be leaving at some point, will these programs be able to be sustained by the Iraqis themselves. And if we don’t think they could be sustained, then we wouldn’t spend our time on them. We are working on programs, projects, concepts that we believe will be sustained. Now, our orders for soccer suits, now that’s going to go away. But they’ll be in position to take orders from other entities, be they other foreign governments or other companies that want uniforms for their staffs or whatever. So we think we’re making some real inroads here.

But I’ll mention one other area, which not only is exciting, but it’s also puts a – usually puts a smile on people’s faces, because we have a neat name for it and that’s the Chicken Run Project. In the past three months, we have seen the number of poultry farms in our region go from three to seven, so we could play with the numbers and say we have doubled, which we have, the number of poultry farms. We want to see that number in the next twelve months go to more than 100 and we’re on track to have that realized. What this will do is to re-establish the thriving poultry industry in our region. It was thriving up until about seven years ago.

Right now poultry from South America is imported to our region and people buy the poultry. There are a few – well, there are a few chicken farms in production now and the locally produced chickens are almost twice as much as the imports. We’re convinced – and I have a veterinarian on my staff and we have other talent as well. I haven’t talked about the Baghdad PRT, which is about 90 professionals that are in Baghdad. That’s a stand-alone PRT, but we work very closely with them and we use some of the talented people on their staff – two of whom are agricultural specialists and they come from American universities with very lengthy credentials in this area. And we are convinced that with the right technologies, we can re-establish the poultry industry and have better poultry produced, also Halal – they’ll meet Halal standards which the South American poultry does not, and will be competitive pricewise or even cheaper than the imports. It’ll take us about a year to see that happen. To develop the poultry industry, you need feed mills, you need a slaughterhouse and, of course, you need the chicken farms and you need a trucking industry to get the poultry to the slaughterhouse, get it from the slaughterhouse to the market and there are other details as well. But we are working on all these different areas and we’re going to – we’re seeing it come together now.

One of the technologies we’re introducing, the slaughterhouse, which was in operation for one year before it closed in 2003 is right on the Euphrates River and their technique was to take water from the Euphrates and bring it into the slaughterhouse and wash down the newly slaughtered chickens. What we’re doing is we’re going to drill a well for them and they will use clean water. As you may know, the Euphrates is quite polluted. So they’ll be using clean water from the well to wash down the chickens.

Is that a change in the method of raising and slaughtering chickens? That’s debatable – whether it’s a change or not, but the technology is new in terms of digging a well for them. And digging a well in that part of the world is not a problem at all. So we hope to see not only the poultry industry thrive, but this will also contribute toward eliminating some of the health problems that are rampant in the area. So we have a number of projects going on like this.

I’d like to emphasize one last point. I always like to think of a triangle where at the base of the triangle, security and that’s entirely the military and in our case, it’s all U.S. military and mostly U.S. army responsibility. And they’re doing a great job of that. And by maintaining security, that enables my team and I to get out and do our work. So that’s the base of the triangle, security.

Then we have two legs of the triangle. We have economic development and we have governance. And I say it in that order because when we get the economics, the businesses back on their feet and people going back to work. And we have a number of things I haven’t mentioned that are enabling us to do this, then we can talk about good governance and people will really be more interested in that. And we’re on our way. Now, I’m very proud to say we’re making progress and I will, I think, leave my statement at that and I’ll be happy to take any questions, any points you want to discuss.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hi. Charley Keyes from CNN. Can you talk a little bit about what the security situation is for your PRT?

MR. LANTNER: Sure. In fact, I’m glad to hear you’re from CNN. We had a wonderful visit – I guess it was – is that feedback from me? I guess – well. That we had a wonderful visit by Anderson Cooper. And he spent three days with my brigade and he did a great – I thought he did a great job because he actually spent enough time where he could get some perspective. But your question was: What is the security? We have an – I’m embedded with a brigade and under the brigade we have our various battalions and then from the battalions we have companies and what not. So we have battalions in about four or five different places. And on a daily basis, they do patrols, security patrols, where they are interested in maintaining the security so they patrol the highways, they do checks for IEDs, the improvised explosive devices, they do checks for other types of booby traps and danger points. We have a number of tips that come in from local citizens now. And we have a high percentage of valid tips. When someone says there’s a cache of weapons here or there’s a bomb-making factory there, the army goes in and they call that kinetic operations and they do what it takes to find the truth to that to see if, in fact, there are caches, bomb-making factories, whatever. They are a presence on the streets and we have developed relationships with key players like sheikhs.

I haven’t talked about tribes at all, but we have over 50 tribes in our area, which is about 200 square miles. And now these tribes exist in other parts of the country as well. They’re not unique to our qada, but they are in them. We have about 50 tribes – about six or seven major tribes, but a total of 50. And we stay in touch with the sheikhs who are the heads of the tribes. And they have gotten to – and even though the military come in for 15 months and then are replaced, relationships are lasting, so the incoming brigade can pick up on those relationships.

And we feel, for the most part, that our sheikhs in our area trust us. That’s not to say they like us necessarily and many of them do, but at least they trust us. And if we tell them we’re going to do a particular operation, we come through on that. It’s in their best interest to have good security as well as, of course, our best interest and it’s a cooperative operation. I will also mention – and this of course, I’m an observer of this. I’m not part of security, but I do observe it very carefully. The Iraqi army has come a long way in the right direction in the past nine months that I’ve been in-country and that the Iraqi army now has areas that it is responsible for by itself. We have a great relationship where we can call on one another for assistance, but the Iraqi army is taking on more. And in my qada, I have to always specify, I’m talking about my 200 square miles, although I believe it’s true in some other parts of the country, but I’m just talking about my part of the country, the Iraqi army has taken on much more responsibility, it’s continuing to grow. The CLCs, the concerned local citizens, have – the number has grown tremendously and they are manning these checkpoints. So we see a number of operations that are working and this is quantifiable. You know, the number of – every IED, particularly those that result in injury or death, tragic affairs – and I don’t want to minimize that. But the number of IEDs going off, the number of VBIEDs going off is down. The trends are all down. They’re going in the right direction.

QUESTION: Do you venture forth without a full armored convoy?

MR. LANTNER: No, sir. No. Not at all.

QUESTION: Do you see a time when that’s going to (inaudible)?

MR. LANTNER: Well, to be honest with you, that’s not my call. And I don’t know – I’m sure people who are in the intelligence business and within the Army, they probably have a good idea, but I don’t --

QUESTION: Just from your vantage point.

MR. LANTNER: No. However, when I arrived nine months ago – when I travel, it takes a minimum of four humvees. That’s not because of my size but because that’s the way we go. We don’t travel without at least four humvees. Now, a humvee has a minimum of a three-person crew. And I say here I’m not just being nice by saying three-person. They are men and there are women who are driving or directing or are the gunners on top of the vehicle. So we have three people minimum, could be four, could be five as well, but I’m the fifth person usually. I’m the unarmed package in this ordeal.

If we had more people going to a location, then it would be maybe more than four vehicles. And we’re all wearing very heavy – for me it’s very heavy anyway – 40, 45 pounds worth of vest and helmet and whatnot.

Now, when I arrived, I would have to – I was told, and I do as I’m told in this – I was told I kept my vest and my helmet on at all times. So I’m meeting with a sheikh in his house or I’m meeting with the judge in the courthouse or I’m meeting with the mayor; I’m wearing my vest and my helmet. That was nine months ago.

We’ve gotten to a point now when we arrive at a location, the people who are staffing the humvees, they then are our security detail. So we have at least 12 or maybe 15 or 18 soldiers; they’re still surrounding the area and on patrol at all times while I’m in my meeting, but we take our vests and helmets off. That’s a big step forward, but that’s really all I can – I say it’s a big step forward and I’ll tell you why I can say that. Again, security is not my area, but I just feel so much more comfortable talking to people without my equipment on, and I feel we can – and I think they respect me for, you know, not having that equipment on all the time. And we’re able to, I think, get more business done and I’m very happy that that’s resulted that way.

Yes.

QUESTION: Samir Nader with Radio Sawa. With all this, it seems all the PRT teams are achieving slowly progress in different areas, and this part of the progress in the security. Do you see these things together, the security and the PRT work, goes like a domino effect to spread in Iraq? Can you give us –

MR. LANTNER: That’s an interesting – that’s a very interesting question. I honestly can’t say. I don’t want to project things outside of my area because while I know who the players – I know some of the players or the PRT leaders and other Army officials in other parts of Iraq, I don’t know, really don’t know, if things would spread like that. I know that other positive things are happening, but there may be some negative things happening as well. So I’m not in a position where I can accurately give you information on that.

What I will say is there’s no doubt as the security becomes better, the economic development, the governance side, get better as well. But there has to be security first, and then the other two.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m John Mulligan from the Providence Journal. Nice to see you.

MR. LANTNER: Hi.

QUESTION: On just that point, I wonder if you could move from your personal security to the progress during your – that you’ve anecdotally seen during your nine months on security of your customers, so to speak, the townspeople or the sheikhs or different groups in your qada, along with the economic development and the governance. And I’m wondering maybe would it be helpful to pick one particular area and describe it that way, the place with the chickens or the bicycle factory. Maybe there was X amount of violence that you knew about nine months ago and there’s half of X amount, or I don’t know. I’m just trying to get a sense of the progression.

MR. LANTNER: Right. Well, the cities of Mahmudiyah and Yusufiyah have a – both have central market areas and that’s generally the areas when we have VIPs come out, we have CODELs, you know, congressional delegations, we have staff delegations, we’ve had some governors come out. And we generally – if they come to our area, we generally take them to these market areas in the humvees and then more recently getting out of the humvees and walking in the market areas ourselves. And we have seen the numbers of shops – or stalls might be a better description – increase, so it’s about 50 percent higher now in both Mahmudiyah and Yusufiyah than it was nine months ago when I arrived.

I don’t count them. I don’t report on them, I should say. But there is an element in Baghdad that goes out and looks at these things and counts and gets us quantifiable – the thing is, again, that’s kind of tricky in itself because we paved a road in Yusufiyah leading up to the market and not only did we see an immediate increase in stalls, the number of stalls in the market area, but people opened up brand new stalls on the newly paved road where there hadn’t been stalls before. So we – and there are also some checkpoints now along these areas. And I haven’t mentioned the IP, the Iraqi police. The numbers have grown in the Iraqi police and they have a number of walking patrols. In fact, we were very happy when we had it happen – this is just by chance. We had a CODEL two or three – two months ago, and then we happened to – as we were in the market, we see two policemen come and they were casual enough. They were armed but they were casual. They waved to a few of the storeowners, who waved back at them. When the stall owners waved to them, they returned the waves. This is – you know, these are cops walking a beat, and it can be from any American city. And you know the general feeling is if you have that happening and you have good relationships, you feel better. And more than likely, security is better as well.

So that’s – is that what you were getting at maybe?

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s the sort of picture I’m--

MR. LANTNER: Right. And I can also mention we had – and this is a very complex situation with people returning, refugees returning to the area. And it’s complex because, as with most countries that have had a war, their homes may not be standing or their homes might be occupied by other people who have come and there are population shifts internally within the country.

What we have in the poultry industry that we’re restarting, we have people who are returning who really want to get back to what they know and what they have – their families have done for a long time. So just by fact that people are returning, even though there are problems that result, but it’s always good to see people returning, I think. And that’s another example. They wouldn't be returning if security weren’t better. People were either killed or fled when it became clear that there was no security. Now that there is security, we see some positive things happening like that.

Yes.

QUESTION: What’s the sense of frustration among local officials you deal with about getting the money they need from the federal ministries? I know you’re so close to Baghdad, but still isn’t there a problem with that, getting the money from the central government?

MR. LANTNER: There definitely is a problem, yes. You know, they’re not as frustrated as I’d like to see them be. There are – the society is different from ours. Their lines of communication traditionally are different from what ours have been. And many of them have an outlook that things will happen for the right – or the way things happen are the way they should be. And they also know that we’re there helping them and trying to make the connections, help them make the connections. And of course, we have pots of money that we use. We have supplied – I mentioned the two companies, ready-made clothing and the bicycle factory. Well, we’ve supplied them with generators. You know, whether you’re talking agriculture, whether you’re talking other forms of business, whether you’re talking private families, you need electricity and you need water. And they have to be dependable. If you’re not going to have eight hours of dependable electricity or X number of hours, you can’t run an assembly line or you can’t do much. And it’s hard to have a decent life if you don’t have electricity or clean water. So we’re putting in generators. That is a short-term solution, but it’s a good short-term solution. And of course, what it does also, it presents the challenge of getting fuel oil to the generators. But we’ve worked out lines to do that as well.

So they know – the Iraqis know. And this is, I think, a very positive point that they can rely on us for not only advice, but we come through with important contributions as well. And we have a clearly outlined plan which they have come up with and we are working with. So we’re not just throwing generators at them. You know, we make sure these companies have promise and that we make sure that the leaders, the managers or the owners or whatever, are, in fact, people we can work with, and then we’re very happy to help them get back on their feet.

QUESTION: But the central government is not stepping up to meet those requirements?

MR. LANTNER: You know, what the central government is doing actually is not made public. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what the central government is doing. I believe the qada council people know, but that’s not information they necessarily share. They don’t share that information with us all the time. There are some projects going on which we know are funded by the federal government, and they’re good projects. And the number has increased in the nine months I’ve been there. I can’t really say the dollar amount has increased because I don’t know exactly how much these projects cost, but I know that the various ministries are putting attention, are giving attention to this qada.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just one more question. Getting back to the debate inside this building about directed assignments, getting enough volunteers to serve in Iraq, how did you react to that? You were out in the field working, all volunteers.

MR. LANTNER: Right. There’s no doubt in my mind that what we’re doing in Iraq on these EPRTs is a worthwhile operation. And I surely hope not only will the number of EPRTs stand; I’d like to see the number increased myself. That’s because I believe we are contributing. How the Department -- how the State Department and the Department of Defense and AID get people to staff the PRTs is a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, I’m aware of that. So I’m not really part of that anymore because now that I’ve had my tour, I won’t be directed, so it’d be – I’m really outside that. I think it – I surely watch it and it’s – the people I work – the Iraqis I work with, some of them are very astute, by watching CNN for example or BBC or – I think that’s about it. I think CNN and BBC are the only international broadcasters. They ask me about it, too. And we all saw the same clips of the town hall meeting that was held in the Department and it gave – it gave us something to talk about. But I’m really not part of that now, so I can’t give you a real good answer on that.

QUESTION: The cycle is going to begin again in another eight months or whatever. What would you say to people who are contemplating serving in your shoes?

MR. LANTNER: I’d encourage people to apply. This has been nine months down and three months to go. It’s been tremendously fulfilling. And I’ve worked for the federal government for over 30 years: military, active duty military and Department of Commerce; I was in NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; I was in the Department of Defense as a civilian for ten years and I was at Voice of America for ten years and been detailed to the State Department for eight years. So I have a variety of experiences. Definitely, the State Department has been the highlight of my fabled career. I’ve been a public affairs officer at our embassy in Niger in West Africa, as well as – that was three and a half years and I was public affairs officer for three years in Hanoi, Vietnam. And I’m able to call on those experiences as well as my experience in the Vietnam War. I was a naval officer. I’m able to call on many of my experiences and it’s all come in handy to the work I’m trying to do now. And it’s just a thrilling experience.

And I don’t want to minimize the excitement with working with -- embedded with an army brigade particularly when there are operations, serious operations, going on. We’ve had tragedies. We’ve had some other very trying, very challenging situations. And the Army has really, really come through. The brigade I’m embedded with – I’m in, I mentioned, with the 3-101. Prior to that, when I arrived, it was the 2-10 Mountain, 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division. And both the 2-10 Mountain and the 3-101 are very well-trained, very well-led, very talented people at all levels, a lot of high-tech gear. And it’s exciting to be there. It really is.

MR. DUCKWORTH: Thank you very much. Thanks a lot.

MR. LANTNER: Thank you.

MR. DUCKWORTH: We also have some handouts in the back, if you didn’t get them on the way in. And I thank you for coming out this afternoon.

2008/035


Released on January 16, 2008

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