Fallujah Yielding 'Significant Finds,' General Says
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2004 As soldiers and Marines in the Iraqi city of Fallujah provide humanitarian aid to citizens while still fighting pockets of resistance, they continue to make "significant finds" of weapons, U.S. Central Command's second-in-command told reporters here Nov. 19.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith said at a Pentagon news conference that over the past 10 days a single unit had found 91 weapons caches and 431 improvised explosive devices in one sector of Fallujah.
"In contrast to that, the entire Marine Expeditionary Force found 48 caches and 93 IEDs in the month of October, and in all of Iraq in the month of October, units found 130 caches and destroyed 348 IEDs," he said. "So that is an incredibly significant amount of weapons and IEDs that were found in the city."
Smith said soldiers and Marines also found large IED-making facilities, and facilities for making vehicle-borne bombs. "So clearly, besides being a safe haven for leadership and command and control, Fallujah was a center for making the IEDs that were being produced and used in other parts of the country to attack the coalition," he said. "And we continue to make significant finds in the city every day."
The Fallujah operation struck a severe blow to the insurgency's command and control structure, the general said. "We're going to find continued evidence, we think, that we've severely disrupted the insurgents' game plan as we go back and take a look at the exploitation of what we've done," he explained. "As you know, we went through the city house by house. We are now going back and re- looking at some of the areas we've been to make sure that we're capturing all the information that's available out there."
These continued operations and the fact that some insurgents remain in the city mean it's still a dangerous place, Smith said. "It looks like these are some of the jihadists," he said. "We're not sure whether they're foreign fighters or local, but what we see from them is the type of people that are there prepared to fight to the very last. Some of them have explosive vests that they're fighting with that will, as our soldiers go into the buildings or wherever they are, we expect that they'll blow themselves up to cause further casualties. So we are slowly working ourselves through those limited areas where we still are."
In other parts of the city, U.S. soldiers and Marines, as well as Iraqi security forces, are handing out food and water. "This is not a humanitarian crisis," Smith emphasized. "The number of folks that have come out to get food and water have not been significant. We believe most of the innocent and the families left the city before the attack occurred. And we are going to continue to clear out the city and make sure it's safe before we actually allow large numbers of humanitarian organizations into the city."
Smith said the focus of current operations is to make Iraq safe enough for the country's citizens to vote. "We are intent on trying to provide a secure and stable enough situation to be able to conduct nationwide elections in January," he said. "Now, I will not pretend that that's not a challenge at this stage, but we will continue along those lines." He reminded reporters of the skepticism a year ago as to whether Afghanistan would be able to hold its presidential election, which was conducted successfully last month.
"I think that bodes somewhat well for the Iraqis, in that we're seeing a similar level of interest in elections and politics with the Iraqi people that we saw with the Afghans," the general said. "You'll recall we didn't expect more than about 6 million people to register in Afghanistan. We ended up with 10 and a half million registered, and almost 9 million Afghan residents voted, of which about 40 percent were women -- which would be unheard of and inconceivable two or three years ago in Afghanistan."
Smith acknowledged that elements seeking to derail the democratic process in Iraq are conducting a "very effective" intimidation campaign. "We see it permeate many levels of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces," he said. "You're seeing more of it daily as we see decapitated bodies in Mosul and other places. And it's that part that we have got to be able to handle and take that away from them, so that people can freely get out with some level of reasonable risk to vote and not go back and expect their families to be killed just because they go out and vote. And it's going to take a certain level of courage on the part of the Iraqis, just like there was on the part of the Afghans."
The general said the successful Afghanistan presidential election is encouraging, but he would not rule out trouble in the way ahead. "We are very optimistic, I would say, with some guardedness, only because we're not sure what the Taliban will do next," he explained. "We think they suffered a very large defeat -- actually, we know they suffered a very large defeat -- just by virtue of the fact that elections occurred. And how they will respond to that failure remains to be seen, but we're concerned that in the run-up to the elections for the lower and upper house currently scheduled for the spring -- that we will see an increased level of violence, in an effort to try and stop those elections from occurring."
Smith spoke of the pride and dedication the Afghan people showed as the election process unfolded. "And we are hoping that we, at some point in time, can generate the same level of commitment to this in Iraq that we had in Afghanistan, although I will admit, given the security situation there right now and the intimidation and harassment campaigns that are going on, it will be difficult," he said. "But we're continuing to move down that road towards elections in January, and then looking to elections in Afghanistan in the spring."