AL ASAD, Iraq (Reuters) - Captain Jason Dupuis had to talk to a psychologist about his experiences in the heat of battle, having endured mortar bombs and gunfire from insurgents at the height of the violence after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
But since arriving back in the country three months ago, the 30-year-old U.S. soldier from Louisiana has not left al-Asad air base in western Anbar province. His role in advising Iraqi security forces has not required him to.
“It’s a little restless ... You see all your brothers and sisters in Afghanistan fighting the fight and you wish you could be there ... It’s weird. I’m like a caged animal,” said Dupuis, who was previously deployed to Iraq in 2007-08.
The United States handed over all combat duties to Iraqi security forces in August, moving into an advisory and assistance role to Iraq’s army and police. They still come under fire from time to time and still shoot back.
But U.S. forces have not legally been able to conduct unilateral operations in Iraq since a bilateral security pact came into force in 2009 and most began switching their focus to training Iraqis when they pulled out of towns on June 30, 2009.
At al-Asad, aside from training, U.S. soldiers assist the Iraqi army with logistics and provide intelligence support.
Sergeant Kenneth Stover went out on patrols to find “high value targets” in his 2007-09 deployment in Iraq. He now spends his time teaching Iraqi soldiers emergency first aid on base.
“It was a totally different role where we were going out and looking to find those threats that were threatening the U.S. forces and our allies and coalition,” he said, while getting ready to help teach how to clear a person’s blocked airway.
“They (Iraqis) were just the ones who helped us kick down the doors per se, but now, these guys are the main effort and the main action. So they’re out there doing all the kicking down doors and we’re sitting back and watching them as they take action.”
While U.S. soldiers are still trained for combat before coming to Iraq, they rarely go on patrol.
Sergeant Major Jeffrey Dillingham, who has been deployed to Iraq three times and once to Afghanistan, finds it strange to no longer be able to take control of a situation and to allow Iraqi soldiers to make the decisions instead.
“I’ve done this for seven years now and every time it gets a little bit different. There’s no question that the Iraqis are in charge right now,” said Dillingham, whose father and grandfather also served in the U.S. army.
All the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops must withdraw from Iraq by end-2011.
Dupuis and other U.S. soldiers at al-Asad spoke just before whistleblower website WikiLeaks published almost 400,000 U.S. military files from the Iraq war that gave unprecedented insight into the conflict.
The files, mainly from U.S. field commanders, described widespread abuse of prisoners by Iraqi forces that U.S. military officials knew about but never investigated.
U.S. officials said the leak endangered U.S. troops and threatened to put some 300 Iraqi collaborators at risk by exposing their identities.
Additional reporting by Reuters television; Editing by Michael Christie