Al Qaeda Declines in Northern Iraq, Military Officer Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 14, 2005 Eighty percent of al Qaeda's network in northern Iraq "has been devastated" since January due to the capture or killing of key leaders and the outrage of Iraqi citizens, a U.S. troop commander told Pentagon reporters today.
Army Col. Robert B. Brown, commander of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade Combat Team, reported from Mosul, Iraq, during a videoteleconference that things are looking up in northern Iraq, where "the Iraqi army is being rebuilt" and citizens clearly "want freedom."
The situation in Mosul is "improving on a daily basis," Brown said. "Normalcy has come back into the city."
That wasn't the case prior to the Iraqi elections held in January, Brown recalled, when his soldiers "faced a foreign fighter that was very well-trained." However, the situation has changed significantly since then, he said.
Several events caused the decline of terrorist influence in Mosul over the past year by, Brown said. For one, Mosul's citizens, who'd had enough of the murder of innocent women and children by al Qaeda-sponsored terrorists, began supporting their new government after the elections.
Carnage wrought by foreign terrorists also has caused Iraqis who used to favor the return of the defunct Saddam Hussein regime to change sides and support the new Iraqi government, Brown said.
Today, Mosul's citizens routinely identify insurgents and provide other information to U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces, Brown said.
"People are fed up with the terrorists' acts," the colonel said, noting that Iraqis "want a brighter future."
Many key al Qaeda leaders in Iraq have been captured or killed in recent months, Brown said, affecting terrorist operations. Brown said enemy mortar attacks in his area have decreased to about six a month, compared to around 300 monthly prior to the January elections.
And "we have not seen well-trained foreign fighters" since the elections, Brown said. Foreign terrorists captured these days are poorly trained and "very young," he noted, ranging in age from 15 to 17 years old.
Al Qaeda is "clearly our biggest threat" in Iraq, Brown said. Of 550 terrorists killed during U.S.-coalition operations in northern Iraq during February and March, he estimated between 60 percent and 70 percent of enemy casualties were foreign fighters.
Brown said he's very proud of his hard-working soldiers. The brigade's victories against terrorists haven't come without cost, he noted, with 33 having lost their lives in Iraq over the past 11 months.
However, the brigade's trademark vehicle has "saved hundreds of my soldiers' lives," Brown asserted. He said 115 rocket-propelled-grenade rounds, as well as myriad machine-gun bullets, have failed to penetrate the Stryker's tough skin during his brigade's tour in Iraq.
The Stryker has "done a fantastic job here in Iraq," Brown said.