Elections Boost Confidence in Iraqi Security Forces
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2005 The Iraqi elections at the end of January have given the security forces a needed boost of confidence, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command today.
Smith spoke to reporters at the Pentagon about the Iraqi elections, the continued U.S. effort in Afghanistan and other hot spots in the Central Command region.
On Jan. 30, there were between 200 and 300 terrorist attacks. Smith said the violence in Iraq had returned to pre-election levels, with terrorists shifting their targets back to the Iraqi security forces and civilians.
He said the elections caused an "attitude change" in the Iraqi people. "The Iraqi security forces acquitted themselves very well during the election. I think they feel good about it," he said. "So there is a level of self- confidence out there that maybe they didn't have before. And then we see some pride on the part of the Iraqi people for the performance of the Iraqi security forces."
He said there is a growing level of trust between the Iraqi people and their security forces. "That's critical to our ability to get in and make sure that there's a viable Iraqi security force so that we can at some point in time draw down our forces and come home," he said.
But it is not just because of the elections that the security climate in Iraq is improving. "We have very aggressively gone after the insurgents, and we've been very effective in taking out leadership and in rolling up some of the bad actors that are out there," he said.
The general said the coalition and Iraqi forces have been effective against senior leadership, particularly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terrorist network. "We have taken out some former regime element leadership," he noted. "Now we're hoping that the attitude of the people is such that the recruiting base for the insurgents is diminishing. And if we can continue with that momentum, we think (the terrorists) are going to have some problems continuing the operations tempo that they had and that they'd like to continue."
Smith said he expects the number of American troops in Iraq to drop to 135,000 in the springtime. He said the brigades extended for the election will come home on schedule. There are more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today.
The coalition is getting a significant amount of help from Iraqi citizens, Smith said. The information Central Command has is anecdotal, but commanders feel they are receiving more help, more information and more actionable intelligence from the Iraqis.
"In Fallujah, for instance, there are Fallujans that are clearly Sunni, that are pointing out caches of weapons," he said. "There are people in Fallujah and Samarra and other places that have pointed out bad actors of some sort, whether they're extremists or former regime elements. And then there are others that are pointing out IEDs and taking us to IEDs."
Afghanistan continues to capitalize on the gains of the October elections, he said. The country is preparing for parliamentary elections in the spring, and coalition forces continue offensive operations against foreign terrorists and Taliban sympathizers. He said the effort is hindered by very bad weather.
He praised Pakistani efforts in north Waziristan. Al Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers are trying to use the remote tribal areas of Pakistan as sanctuaries. "We're looking for good things from (the Pakistanis) through the winter and into the spring when activity starts to increase," he said.
Other areas concern CENTCOM leaders. In Africa, he said the peace treaty signed in Sudan encouraged leaders, but they remain very concerned about the genocide in the Darfur region of the country.
He said there has been some movement on the transitional government into Somalia. Outside Mogadishu, Somalia is virtually ungoverned. Command officials said it is important for a government to extend control into the area so it doesn't become a safe haven for terrorists.