WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, March 16, 2007) - Moving coalition forces out of big forward operating bases and into smaller community-based combat outposts as part of the Baghdad Security Plan has reduced violence and helped to stabilize northwestern Baghdad, a senior Army officer serving there said today.
Murders are down by more than half since January in the densely populated 93-square-kilometer area controlled by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, said its commander, Col. J.B. Burton.
His troops have found only 10 planted improvised explosive devices this month. That's down from 36 in January, when 89 IEDs were detonated. So far this month, there have been only 21 IED detonations, Burton reported.
About 1 million people live in the area patrolled by Burton's troops. It is principally Shiia-occupied in the northeast, Sunni in the west and southwest, and mixed in the southeast. Sectarian fault lines define the areas, and both Sunni and Shiia extremists fight for control over portions of the city and its citizens, Burton said.
Extremists have used tactics ranging from car bombs to illegal militia control over access to gas stations and food distribution programs to execution-style murders by death squads, Burton said. Such murders are down from 141 in January to 63 in February to only 16 so far in March, he said. But the area has seen an increase in car bombs targeting Shiia gathering places, Burton said, mostly by Sunni extremists.
Burton said he believes this decline is directly attributable to his Soldiers living in the neighborhoods and working side by side with the Iraqi security forces.
Originally, the combat outposts were designed solely to create and keep a troop presence in the community. However, they have transformed into combined command posts, or joint security stations, with coalition forces working in cooperation with Iraqi forces. This allows for better and faster information sharing and easier operations planning, Burton said.
"Every day I go out and visit these joint security stations, I see better interoperability, increased command and control processes and increased sharing of information," Burton said. "What we started out with as a means to get coalition forces out into the battlefield has grown into a very promising effort to execute combined operations across western Baghdad."
But, while violence has decreased since implementing the Baghdad Security Plan, Burton was quick to add that it is still too soon to say how long the downturn will last.
"Make no mistake, we are not proclaiming victory yet. There's a lot of tough work ahead, but we are very optimistic," Burton said.
Meanwhile, the lull in violence is giving local governments time to form and operate. Burton said it's also boosting the confidence local Iraqi forces, which he called a "fundamental necessity for improving the quality of life for Iraqis in Baghdad is security."
Within the next month, a provincial reconstruction team will embed itself in the area. The team will work with the local governments to begin improving essential services and infrastructure, Burton said.
Already, his own reconstruction team has been working in the area to increase employment opportunities, which Burton said is a key element of decreasing acts of violence. In Shula and Kadhimiya, his team has worked with local government leaders and the district advisory councils to create municipal jobs and help open small business.
"These are all positive signs, that we see the employment opportunities decreasing the violence, specifically in the Shula and Kadhimiya areas," Burton said. "We hope to export similar programs throughout the rest of the area of responsibility."
<b>'Evolutionary' Developments Underlie Baghdad Gains</b>
Recent improvements in Baghdad's security situation are the result of compounding "evolutionary" developments, the U.S. official responsible for training the Iraqi army said today.
"My personal opinion is this is more evolutionary vs. revolutionary in terms of modification of the strategy," Army Brig. Gen. Terry Wolff told a group of online journalists. Wolff commands the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team under Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
"It's not like "everyone's walked in anew or woken up in the morning and said, 'If we just did this, everything will work its way out,'" the general said.
Rather, he said, current promising indications are the result of studious attention to past lessons learned, the maturation of existing efforts, and the expanded implementation of successful techniques.
Wolff pointed to a vastly more effective deployment of Iraqi army Soldiers throughout Baghdad now than during a similar security push in the fall, when Iraqi forces failed to arrive in the numbers anticipated.
"What you're beginning to see now in Baghdad is joint security stations which have Iraqi police, Iraqi military and coalition Soldiers all living and working together out in the neighborhoods," he said, describing the approach as a twist on an ongoing strategy that has benefited from a "reenergized effort" in the past couple months.
He attributed the difference in Iraqi participation to a revised approach designed to reassure Iraqi troops and bypass obstacles to deployability. Working with Iraqi commanders in the aftermath of the fall campaign, he said, U.S. officials asked, "What went right, what went wrong, and what would you fix to make it better next time'"
Together they devised a multi-faceted program to ready the troops for deployment. Steps include: informing Iraqi units well in advance that they will deploy to Baghdad, offering an incentive program, expanding urban combat training, setting a clear schedule for time deployed, and planning for regular leave and stand-down schedules upon their return home.
"That deployability program is paying some dividends," the general said. "Units are coming down, their strengths have increased."
Wolff added that similar programs are showing gains in Mosul and in Anbar province.
"There are 10 Iraqi divisions out there. They are all in battlespace. They are all fighting on a day-to-day basis," he said. "It's beginning to bear some fruition based on what we're kind of seeing and hearing about in the streets."
The general described the ongoing coalition effort to train the Iraqi army as a means of consolidating and building off gains in the security situation.
Wolff said plans are under way to expand the army from 10 to 12 divisions, with additional increases to the size of existing divisions. The various coalition training centers are capable of processing about 7,000 Iraqi cadets per month, he said.
However, key to the Iraqi army's long-term success, Wolff noted, is the parallel development of a domestic logistics and maintenance capability. Here, too, the Iraqis have demonstrated progress, he said.
Coalition officials have been working with Iraqi commanders, he said, "trying to get them to stand up a support command." An interim organization is in place, capable of managing key logistical tracking functions, he said, while details of the permanent command are finalized.
Already, a team of 400 Iraqi troops manages the country's main logistics depot in the city of Taji, Wolff said, working "side by side with their coalition counterparts." Motor transport regiments assigned to nine of the 10 Iraqi army divisions have already assumed control for distributing most of their units' equipment and supplies, he said.
Wolff added that development of a maintenance depot at the same site is in its "elementary phases," expected to hit initial operating capability this summer.
Given the early positive indicators on Iraqi performance, coalition forces continue to invest heavily in the training program. U.S. military advisory teams are receiving stepped-up Arabic language training, and new teams coming out of the United States have been augmented with logistics and personnel specialists.
The partnership is a step in the right direction, Wolff said. He deferred a question on future developments to the U.S. strategy, but predicted it's more about "maturing the ongoing efforts."
<b>Tribal Leaders Helping Stem Violence</b>
Tribal leaders are cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi security forces to reduce terrorist-staged violence in Diyala province. U.S. and Iraqi officials have urged prominent sheikhs in Diyala province "to work with their people to become part of the security process and part of the political process (to) drive a wedge (between) the terrorists and any auxiliary support or direct support that they may receive from the people," Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said from his headquarters in Baqubah during a teleconference with reporters.
Baqubah is the capital city of Diyala and is located about 125 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The sheikhs were attentive during recent discussions, said Maj. Gen. Shakir Halail Husain, commander of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, and Sutherland's partner.
"We explained to them that the coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces are working to serve them, and the government of Diyala is working to provide food and fuel for them," the Iraqi general commented through an interpreter at the news conference.
Those talks are paying off. Citizens in Muqdadiyah, Baqubah and Balad Ruz have provided tips that have resulted in the arrest of several terrorists, the Iraqi general said.
"Yesterday, we arrested 17 of them," he said, "and we killed six terrorists in the same area."
Sectarian violence in Diyala province, as measured by the number of murders and kidnappings, has decreased 70 percent in the period between July 2006 and February, Sutherland noted. However, attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces in the province have gone up, the colonel said.
This situation indicates "the terrorists are trying to disrupt the operations by coalition forces working with the Iraqi security forces," Sutherland said.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda in Iraq has changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq in order to posture as an Iraqi resistance group, the colonel said. However, "this is the same foreign-led group dedicated to death and destruction," he pointed out.
Sutherland said his five-battalion force was recently reinforced by the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, which is equipped with Stryker vehicles. American Soldiers in Diyala province work alongside Iraqi 5th Division-troops and 10,000 Iraqi police, he said.
And, recent U.S.-Iraqi anti-terrorist operations conducted in Balad Ruz, Katoon and Muqdadyidah have been successful, the Iraqi general noted.
"We have scored big success in these areas," he said. "We have improved security in Diyala province."