Citizens Providing More Help to Iraqi, Coalition Forces
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 16, 2005 More and more, Iraqi citizens are helping suppress the insurgency in that country, a senior U.S. officer in Baghdad said today.
"The Iraqi people increasingly are exposing the insurgency," Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said. "In some places there are (terrorist) cells that are concerned that they can't blend into that neighborhood."
Officials at Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq last week reported that Iraqi citizens helped uncover large weapons caches and assisted Iraqi military and police authorities in rescuing two hostages held in two separate kidnappings. One tip, officials said, came from an Iraqi child who led Iraqi Intervention Forces to a small cache in Mosul.
Since April, Alston said, tips from the Iraqi public are up threefold, due in part to an advertising campaign that was launched to make Iraqis aware of resources available to report terror activities.
However, Alston said, although the insurgency is struggling, securing Iraq's porous border is still difficult for the coalition and Iraqi forces to police.
"Iraq has a lot of kilometers of border, and that is certainly a challenge," Alston said. The Syrian border is considered the worst problem by the coalition.
"The majority of whatever sustenance is coming to the insurgency would be through the Syrian border," Alston said. But, he added, through Syria is not the only way into Iraq.
"Iraq has turned to its neighbors to continue to petition them to do more and all that they possibly can in order to contribute to fixing this problem on their side of the border," Alston said.
Alston could not offer exact figures on the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, but, he said, foreigners are likely responsible for most of the violence in Iraq, although not exclusively.
"The foreign fighters are the ones that most often are behind the wheel of a suicide car bomb," Alston said, "or, most often behind the wheel of any suicide situation."
Suicide car bombers have plagued Iraq. Alston noted that most destruction in the country comes when terrorists employ bombs against civilian targets. Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices are largely ineffective against military targets in Iraq because of armor reinforcement in vehicles, he said.
Current policy for coalition forces in Iraq stipulates that all vehicles in forward operating bases or those operating outside of secured compounds are required to be armored.
"I think the value of the armored vehicle requirement is paying off for us every day," Alston said. "As a consequence to that, we believe that the return-to-duty rate, which I believe is approximately 75 percent, has increased 10 percent."
The Iraqi military has beefed up its armor arsenal recently, as well. While Iraqi forces show great promise, there is still work that needs to be done with the Iraqi security forces, Alston said. He noted that the coalition leadership routinely examines its personnel strength to try to give the Iraqi forces more responsibility for security in Iraq.
"If we needed more troops, we would ask for more troops," Alston said. "Right now we're satisfied with our troop levels, but it's something that we're studying all the time."
In addition, Alston said, the coalition has devised ways to partner with the Iraqi army to help them improve combat readiness. Alston said that any departure from Iraq by coalition forces would be "conditions-based" and would require Iraqi forces to be ready and approval of the Iraqi government.
"The situation here and the responsibilities we have as a coalition -- to support the training and development and maturing of Iraqi forces -- it is difficult for us right now to look at that in terms of a particular time table," Alston said. But, he insisted, Iraqi security forces have been instrumental in ensuring Iraq's new government moves forward.
In January, he said, "the Iraqi security forces ... rose up, they protected the polling places, and they inspired the people, they tackled the suicide bombers and they, more than any other institution in Iraq, inspired the confidence that enabled 8 million people to go to the polls and vote."
In March, Alston said, the transitional national assembly was formed and seated, and "that enterprise also was challenged by the enemy and they failed to stop that from happening."
Last month, Alston stated, the Iraqi government formed and was sworn in and once again the insurgents tried and failed again to cease participation.
"We find ourselves right now with a quality Iraqi force," Alston said. "Some of these forces have a long way to go, some of these forces are doing a fantastic job and conducting independent operations," he added. But, he said that as the months go on the coalition would be better able to assess how long it will take to shift responsibility to the Iraqi forces.