WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Aug. 24, 2007) - Due to the sustained presence of coalition forces in former insurgent safe havens and increased capability of Iraqi security forces, levels of violence in Iraq are the lowest they've been since June 2006, an operational leader on the Joint Staff said today.

Army Brig. Gen. Richard Sherlock, deputy director for operational planning, spoke to reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, highlighting the continued success of coalition operations in Iraq. Brig. Gen. Sherlock also applauded "bottom-up" security efforts happening in Anbar province, and said these efforts need to be supported by Iraq's central government for lasting reconciliation to be achieved.

"A lot of the events that have occurred in Anbar, I believe, are truly transformational events," Brig. Gen. Sherlock said, referring to Sunni tribal leaders who have come together and forced al Qaeda groups out of their villages. "Looking at where Anbar was in January versus where it is today and then events as they're starting to unfold in Diyala province and Baqubah, again I think they're tremendous leaps forward.

"What we have to do and what the multinational force is trying to do is make sure that they are then tied and supported by the central government, so that that doesn't become an issue in the future," he continued.

The surge of U.S. troops in Iraq has allowed the coalition to maintain a sustained troop presence in areas that were formerly unsecure and used by insurgents. Brig. Gen. Sherlock said. As operations continue, insurgents seek out places without a strong coalition or Iraqi security force presence, he said. But, he added, the coalition is continuing to pressure them and force them out of their normal routine. Operation Phantom Strike, a joint operation that began in mid-August, has been particularly effective in disrupting the work of insurgents, he said.

The increased capability of Iraqi security forces is another reason levels of violence are down in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Sherlock said. Iraqi forces are increasingly in the lead on operations and have proven they can police themselves by finding and arresting members of the security forces who are involved in insurgent activities, he said.

"The capability of the Iraqi security forces is continuing to grow. They're in the fight every day," Brig. Gen. Sherlock said. "They're taking casualties at three to four times the amount of coalition forces in those operations, and as they continue to operate -- and in many cases in a lead role with coalition forces just in support roles -- they'll continue to gain in capability, and we'll turn responsibility over to them as fast as we can."

Brig. Gen. Sherlock noted that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-September this year, always has been a particularly violent period in Iraq. Also, with the upcoming release of the Iraq progress report by U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. officials expect an increase in violence in Iraq, he said.

The Iraq progress report will be an important document and will be the basis for many of decisions about future troop levels and operations in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Sherlock said. "As they make their recommendations and they make their report to Congress, the decisions that will be made from that will be supported by the military," he said.